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Overcome With Emotion at My Grandaughter's Bat Mitzvah

Overcome With Emotion at My Grandaughter's Bat Mitzvah

Last fall, my granddaughter Ariella became a bat mitzvah in California, and made us very proud and happy.

There are moments in life which define us. There is a before and an after that particular event. In the present Jewish practice, a bar or bat mitzvah is one of those cutting moments. A 13-year-old-boy (a bar mitzvah) or a girl (a bat mitzvah) marks a significant transitional period in life by celebrating it with family and friends during a religious ceremony and often with a big party afterwards.

In Hebrew the expression bar/bat mitzvah, usually translated as “son/daughter of the mitzvah,” really means youngsters who are now “responsible for the performance of the mitzvot (commandments/good deeds).” It takes about two years to get a date from the synagogue and six months to learn how to lead the service in Hebrew and English. In most Reform synagogues in North America, during a Sabbath morning service, which often includes the celebration of a bar/bat mitzvah, the high point is reached when the candidate chants a section of the Torah portion of the week taken from the Pentateuch and part of the prophetic portion (Haftarah) that follows it. Also, a bar/bat mitzvah usually reads a short commentary of the biblical passages and a message of gratitude to parents, relatives and friends.

Ariella did all that. She was nervous but went through the whole thing with poise and a great smile. We were delighted.

In my granddaughter’s temple, they have a lovely custom of invoking God’s blessings upon the bar/bat mitzvah while standing under a prayer shawl (tallit) held by close friends. As a grandfather, it was my pleasure and honor to recite the priestly blessing there as I prayed for Ariella to have a good and long life, contentment and peace.

However, what moved me the most was a moment just before the Torah service when the rabbi asked us to pass the Torah scroll from one generation to another, as a reminder that we, as Jews, are all connected by tradition, cultural as well as ethnic ties, from our ancestors in biblical times to the present generation and beyond. As I handed the scroll to my wife, and as she passed it on to my son and daughter-in-law, and they gave it to Ariella, I thought of my own bar mitzvah in Istanbul in 1951, of my deceased parents and grandparents, and forward to my son and his daughter, with a sense of gratitude and connectedness that can only be described as magical. I was overwhelmed by emotions, my eyes became teary, and I had a hard time breathing. Yes, our Jewish tradition is being handed down to a new generation, and I hope they will be proud of it, keep it and enrich it with their own creativity.

My wife and I still have the b'nai mitzvah of three more grandchildren to go, and I hope God will grant us the opportunity to witness their own celebration.

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D., is rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA, and is a faculty member of the Department of Theology at Boston College. He is the author of Did Moses Really Have Horns? And Other Myths About Jews (2009) and Judaism and And God Spoke These Words: The Ten Commandments and Contemporary Ethics (2014).

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.
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