Bat Mitzvah dress rehearsal # 1

Yesterday was the first of my two “dress rehearsals.” Well, no dress, not even my tallit, but I ran through the entire service on the bima with Rabbi Chester – basically, me reading and chanting my sections of the service and him saying “la la la” in his typical joking way whenever the cantor or congregation was supposed to chime in. 

The bima at Temple Sinai (actually an old photo -- the bima, or dais, was recently lowered and widened to be wheelchair accessible)

It went really smoothly. The sanctuary’s acoustics for speaking are great. (Even better than singing in the shower!) And I know my Torah and haftarah chanting down pat: The only glitch was a brief moment of total brain collapse when I couldn’t remember which of the many baruch atah adonai melodies to use for the haftarah blessings.

I wasn’t sure that I’d really need one dress rehearsal, let alone two. I mean, I’m not 13! But there’s a bunch of minor maneuvering that it’s helpful to practice. (Where on the podium do I stash my speech? Which mike to use when I turn to face the ark?)

More significantly, the rehearsal was worthwhile as a way to get used to being on the bima.

I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking over the years in bookstores, classrooms, and big auditoriums. But the sanctuary felt grander – the stained glass windows, the eternal lamp, the knowledge that people had filled this room every Shabbat for 80 years and other similar rooms for 2,000 years. 

It echoed, both literally and figuratively. 

I wasn’t really able to take all of that in, though. I was too busy trying not to lose my place in the Torah scroll, groping for the right haftarah blessing melody. I didn’t look up from the prayerbook for the first two-thirds of the rehearsal – and I’m someone who knows that you need to look at the audience when giving a speech.

It was basic let’s-get-through-this survival mode. It was like a wedding where the bride and groom are so keyed up with nervous excitement that they don’t remember any of their conversations with guests. And they never get a chance to taste their cake. 

By the time I got to my d’var Torah, I started to relax. And giving a sermon is so much easier than chanting Torah and haftarah – it’s in English! 

I suspect that the second rehearsal next week will allow me to loosen up further. I’ll be able to let go and open myself up more to the power of the tradition.

By the time of my actual Bat Mitzvah service, I’ll have a better chance of enjoying the (metaphorical) cake.

For me, at least, the rehearsals aren’t about getting it right – they’re about having the time and opportunity to realize what I’m doing and what it means.

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5 Responses to “Bat Mitzvah dress rehearsal # 1”

  1. Laura Trupin Says:

    Hey Ilana…. This post came just at the right time for me, getting ready for Elias’s dress rehearsal tonight… I hope that he gets a little of that sense of calm (and enjoyment) that you seem to be heading toward! Right now I think he’s just trying not to think about it.
    Of course, he IS 13….

    See you on the 26th!
    Laurie

  2. Ilana DeBare Says:

    Good luck to Elias! I suspect that the way 13 year olds experience this is completely different from adults…. Hmm, that gives me the idea of
    “interviewing” Becca about what she remembers and what she took away as the meaning of her Bat Mitzvah four years ago.

  3. Linda K. Wertheimer Says:

    Ilana,
    Mazel tov as your big day approaches! I still remember my dress rehearsals. There was this sense of excitement, nerves, and just this incredible peace because I was almost done with this part of a big journey in my life.
    A little tidbit I recall: My then-boyfriend (now husband) suggested videoing the rehearsal so I could see how I was doing. It did actually help.
    Something else I remember: Just the warmth of practicing in front of so few people. It was an intimate, special experience – those rehearsals.
    And ultimately, so was the ceremony. I wish the same for you.
    Just – as you’re trying to do – savor each moment – and don’t worry about how you look, how you sound.
    The best kid bat mitzvah I ever saw was when the young girl could not quite get through her chanting because she was just so overcome with emotion about the experience. She reminded all of us what this is about – really marking our coming of age as Jews, whether we’re 13, 40, or 50, or whatever.
    Linda

  4. Ellie Shaw Says:

    You’re wise (it’s an age thing) to savor the moments involved in your bat mitzvah. The important moments in my spiritual life – confirmation, marriage, funerals – went by so fast and even though I concentrated, I came away felling like I missed precious moments. In retrospect, I didn’t miss too much and now that I’m older, I think I would focus just fine – and I’m sure you will. God has truly blessed us all and these ancient rituals reinforce our connections – to the Creator and to each other. Don’t worry – t’s not what you do that day so much as what you come away with. Mazel tov and God bless. Ellie

  5. Rick Endelson Says:

    I published my story “Mid-Life Bar Mitzvah Crisis” on Medium.com.

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