The incomplete Bat Mitzvah

I haven’t posted in a week, since my last entry on floral stress, and it would not be too far-fetched to assume that I succumbed to heart palpitations brought on by last-minute Bat Mitzvah preparations. Not true.

I have actually had a hectic and somewhat emotional week, but hardly any of it was related to the Bat Mitzvah — there was a lovely weekend visit by my Rhode Island sister and her family, a trip to L.A. with my daughter to look at colleges, and the death of a long-ailing uncle of mine in Orange County. (Suffice to say that this may be the only college-application trip in history to include a shiva visit.)

In any case, I’m back — both physically and mentally. I had my second dress rehearsal today with Rabbi Chester, which went well. I learned how to work the new sound system in the temple’s social hall, so I can plug in my iPod and play an Israeli pop music mix during the kiddush luncheon. (Thank you to Danny, Lisa and Yonit for sending me music! I had a blast learning new songs and making up the playlist.)

I even wrestled the Floral Question into submission, picking up six inexpensive orchids at Trader Joe’s that will look just fine in front of the bima.

Yes, a Bat Mitzvah orchid / Photo by Ilana DeBare

In an effort to share as much of the experience as possible, here is a photo of the biggest orchid. It looks like daffodils, but it’s an orchid, honest. It is locked in our bedroom right now so the cat doesn’t eat it before Saturday.

Tomorrow I’ll buy two challot (one for Friday night services, one for Saturday), bake some cookies and assemble cheese and fruit plates for Friday night, and review my Hebrew prayers and chanting.

Amidst all this bustle, there are some things that feel incomplete.

I realized a while ago that I would not learn everything I wanted to learn by the time of my Bat Mitzvah service.  I can reel off a list of Jewish stuff I wanted to do/learn but have not gotten around to, such as:

  • Go to a mikvah (ritual bath)
  • Go to services at an Orthodox shul, to compare with the Reform liturgy
  • Learn and incorporate into my life some Hebrew blessings over daily events like waking up, getting dressed etc.
  • Learn more about the Biblical prophets (nevi’im)
  • Learn some of the history of Chasidism and its legends…

But you know what? I’m totally okay with not having gotten to all this.

Unlike many 13-year-olds, I don’t see becoming a Bat Mitzvah as the conclusion of a process — or as the end of my Jewish education. It’s more like a gate along a path. I look forward to continued reading, learning, participation. My little group of adult b’not mitzvah will continue meeting and studying with Rabbi Chester up until his retirement in June. The four of us are also planning to read Torah together during services sometime over the summer, so we’ll be required to keep our Hebrew chanting up to par.

I’ll also keep this blog going. I won’t change the name: Once you become a Bat Mitzvah, you remain a Bat Mitzvah. And the “midlife” part? I’m not sure precisely when midlife gives way to the next stage of life, or even what the correct term is for that next stage  — late-life? retirement? cronehood? AARP membership? — but I am certainly not there yet.

So Midlife Bat Mitzvah it will continue to be, at least for the forseeable future.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the Bay Area, please feel free to join us for services at Temple Sinai this Saturday at 10:30.

And if you’re not nearby…  I’ll do my best to share the day via the blog. Thank you for accompanying me along this path!

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9 Responses to “The incomplete Bat Mitzvah”

  1. Wendy Says:

    Ilana, Is it this weekend already? Many warm congratulations! Maybe you will have some snow? I have so much enjoyed following your journey via your blog.

  2. molly schuchat Says:

    name for the latter stage of life you mentioned–eldergarden, says a friend of min.

  3. Linda K. Wertheimer Says:

    Mazel tov, Ilana. Hope you have a fulfilling ceremony on Saturday – and most importantly, that you enjoy it – and live it in the moment.

  4. Rebecca Says:

    Mazel tov! What a wonderful journey you have been on – and will now continue. Hope to make it tomorrow to see you in all your glory. So glad you will continue your blog, enlightening us with insights into life as a contemporary Jew. Hugs – Rebecca

  5. elliot Says:

    Ilana: You rock! Lotsa nachas! and good Shabbas to boot. All your kavanah has been/is lovely to witness, even from cyberspace; come to think of it, cyberspace as the medium you’re using to convey such kavanah/intent fits perfectly with the emotive-cosmic worldview that kabbalists spun in their literary way so long ago – very fitting for your momentous ‘going up’ tomorrow.

    Anyway, enjoy your service tomorrow. You were born to lead it and have earned the honor! In your honor and inspired by you, our family is hosting a Shabbas morning service at our house. We’ve invited our favorite Rabbi (you’d like her) to lead the havurah. Mazel tov to you and your fine family! – Elliot

  6. James Richardson Says:

    Thanks for letting us look in on this journey of yours. Sorry Lori and I can’t be there, alas.
    You are in my prayers today, and I may your find a holy presence in the prayers of many and in the ceremony today.
    Blessings in abundance,

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