Bat Mitzvah, Revisited

As my daughter, a junior at a local university and living at home, was approaching her 20th birthday, I tried coercing her into chanting her bat mitzvah Torah portion again. Perhaps I was having another of my helicopter parent moments or I just wanted a chance to hold on to her childhood, I’m not sure. No matter what reasoning I used, Amanda refused. She cited school work and her involvement at Hillel on Friday night where she could mingle with people her own age. How could I argue with her wanting to be studious and socialize? I acquiesced.

For the past three years, my daughter has been teaching Hebrew to 5th and 6th grade students at the temple religious school. According to one mom, when she asked her son to memorize his prayers, he said he couldn’t because Ms. Lev doesn’t want him to memorize the prayers; she wants him to be able to read them. 

Amanda enjoys working with young people and in addition to teaching and explaining the prayers Amanda relates her experience as a student and a bat mitzvah to her students. She shows them her workbooks, her tallit and kipot, as well as her Torah and Haftarah portion in an attempt to infuse her lessons with personal experiences to make the lessons more relevant. A former student pointed out that her tallit, just like Amanda’s, has the symbols of the matriarchs on the bottom.

Amanda’s students requested that she read her Torah portion at a Friday evening service. I could not have planned this any better. She contacted the rabbi and cantor and asked to chant her bat mitzvah portion when the date on the calendar coincided.  The clergy agreed, and the cantor put her portion on a CD.

As I tried to inconspicuously listen at her bedroom door, I heard that Amanda was practicing, not memorizing, her Torah portion. It was all coming back, she told my wife and me. She mailed letters to her students inviting them and their parents to the Friday evening service.

A little nervous, Amanda took her place on the bimah on Shabbat. She participated in Hakafah, just as she did at her bat mitzvah. The rabbi invited Amanda to address the congregation and explain why she asked to read her bat mitzvah Torah portion. The rabbi then asked Amanda’s students to stand next to her; a 5th grader wasn’t even one of her students came up to the bimah, too!  Sometimes-fidgety youngsters looked on, attentive and fascinated, becoming part of the experience.

This time, there were no Uniongrams or candlesticks, the gifts traditionally presented to a bat mitzvah. What remained from seven years ago was my wife and I sitting there, holding hands, with the biggest smiles. Our family is proud of Amanda, but not because she revived her bat mitzvah. It is because every day, she lives by the commandments she spoke about seven years ago.  She has grown into an intelligent, beautiful young Jewish woman.