Bat Mitzvah!

After fifteen months of preparation, it was a wonderful day. The forecasters’ feverish predictions of snow did not pan out, and the weather was crisp and clear. All the logistics (caterer, sound system, flowers etc.) went smoothly. There was a great turnout of about 120 temple regulars and friends from various parts of my life. Like at a wedding, one of the fun things was seeing people connect who knew each other from elsewhere but didn’t realize they also both knew me.

The service itself went well. I had a couple of minor flubs — I blanked out on the blessing for the tallit, and then I lost my place once during the Torah reading when I distracted myself by turning to greet the people doing blessings. But other than those bits, things went smoothly. The most stressful part was the Hebrew chanting; after I was done with that, giving my d’var Torah in English felt like a pina colada by the pool. My favorite moments were the d’var Torah and carrying the Torah scroll around the room while people reached out to kiss it with their prayerbooks or tallit. It was fun to be able to greet everyone that way, and to know that, at that point at least, all I had to do was put my feet in front of each other and not fall down. Easier than chanting.

Rabbi Chester said the most warm and gratifying things, both publicly at the bima and then during the private moment when he blesses the bat/bar mitzvah while the cantor sings. I’ve sat through many 13-year-old b’nei mitzvah services, including my daughter’s, and always itched with curiosity about what the rabbi was telling them.

Now I know…  he’s giving them the winning lottery numbers for the coming week!

Seriously, the part of his blessing that was most meaningful to me was when he said that if I were 40 years old rather than in my 50s, he would be pushing me to go to rabbinical school. It isn’t a career I ever considered, but it felt like ultimate praise coming from him, as well as a recognition of my commitment to Judaism. When he got to delivering the Hebrew part of the blessing, I bowed my head and he told me (I forget his exact words here) to picture the blessing that I need, and to envision myself in that state.

People really liked my d’var Torah. I’m going to post it on the blog in a separate entry, directly after this one. You can access it by clicking here. When writing it, I felt a strong urge to write a credo, or some overarching declaration of What Ilana Believes about life, God, Judaism, ethics, West Bank settlements, women’s rights, whatever. I opted to resist that urge and just focus on the Torah portion, which I believe in retrospect was the correct decision.

After the service, we had a delicious lunch catered by Temple Sinai member David Darwish, with desserts baked by my chavurah. That evening, my brother and sister-in-law hosted a small dinner with a cake by the amazing Paul and Marcia Masse, of Masse’s Pastries in Berkeley (who also happen to be former Julia Morgan School for Girls parents).

My Bat Mitzvah cake / Photo by Rob DeBare

I had given the Masses a photograph of my poppy-embellished tallit, as well as some pictures of the blue chultza shomrit (shirt) we wore in Hashomer Hatzair, the youth movement that was really the start of my Jewish identity. So the cake imagery represents my Jewish path, from teenage years through becoming a Bat Mitzvah. The Masses did an awesome job.

Now, the day after, I feel mostly tired and relieved that all this organizing is over. I am so happy that my group of adult b’not mitzvah is continuing to meet and study — that this was not the end of the process. I’m also looking forward to chanting Torah at other services in the future. That feels like the best of both worlds — the challenge/honor of reading Torah, but without having all the to-do of party planning.

Don’t get me wrong — the party aspect of this certainly was fun. And it was nice to bask in the appreciation and congratulations of my community, especially at a time when I’m accumulating rejection notes from literary agents and not making much headway in figuring out a new career. Actually, it was more than nice. It was wonderfully affirming to feel such support at a time when other spheres of life are challenging.

But still, I look forward to chanting Torah in the future without a party. Just as part of a congregation.

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10 Responses to “Bat Mitzvah!”

  1. johnmangels Says:

    Congratulations! I’m so happy for you (and sorry I could not come and see the service myself).

  2. Susan Says:

    It was a lovely bat mitzvah, Ilana. I’ve been following your blog since you started it and have thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding (sometimes unraveling) of your story. So, although we’ve never met, I felt as if I knew the bat mitzvah girl and was very, very proud of you.

  3. Meg Spencer Dixon Says:

    Ilana, it was a most beautiful service! I have never seen a woman glow so happily as you did when you were carrying the Torah around the room! Even what you considered “flubs” were lovely, because you were being so sweetly human, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having every confidence you’d get it right in just a moment — which of course you did (however long that moment may have seemed to you). Of course the chant about your kitchen renovation, in the manner of a Torah chant, was priceless, and I impressed myself by knowing, well before you identified her, the identity of the Jewish writer who found solace in nature.

    I’m so glad you’ll be continuing this blog — I for one would miss it if you stopped.

  4. shorty Says:

    Mazel tov! I’ve been following along…and i am so happy for you!

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Hi Shorty! I’m delighted to “meet” you… and just checked out (and commented on) your blog. Would it be too invasive to ask what part of the country you live in?

  5. Carolyn Said Says:

    Ilana, it was such a beautiful event. You really were radiant, and you also radiated such humor, spirituality and wisdom, especially when giving your d’var Torah. It was lovely to see your family and friends all supporting you. I was very moved and very glad to be there to share this special day.
    love,
    –Carolyn

  6. Carol Emert Says:

    I was honored and touched to attend your beautiful ceremony. Much love.

  7. susie m Says:

    You inspired me in so many ways. It was a wonderful service full of who you are at the core. You sang and chanted and spoke so beautifully. I always learn from you and this occasion was no exception. Mazal tov! And, I agree with Rabbi Chester, I could see you on the pulpit, no question!

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