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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


August 10, 2018  RSS feed

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Bat Mitzvah as starting line: Final words for my daughter

Emilie Socash

It seems apropos that in this edition I mention that Hila is just weeks away from her Bat Mitzvah. This girl, who has been raised in a rather uniquely immersive Jewish environment (consider: she’s attended at least 10 Super Sundays including one in the womb, and might know how to run a table at a Jewish event better than some adults), will be standing at the Torah, beautifully chanting, a spark in her eye reflecting all that our Jewish future holds on her 13th birthday.

A friend and Federation board member, Ezra Singer, recently lent me the audiobook version of Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer paints a grim-yet-relatable picture of the family patriarch Isaac as he contemplates suicide or a move into a “home.” Isaac had set as a finish line for his life the birth of his first grandson; he revised this finish line to be the grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, now just weeks away at the time of the novel’s opening.

Reading this, I found myself wondering: is Hila’s Bat Mitzvah a finish line or a starting line? The last few years of Hebrew tutoring, religious school, and learning have felt like a marathon for certain; yet in its true meaning, it’s really more of the start. Shortly, she will be considered an adult in terms of Jewish spirituality and observance, and will take her place as a member of the community alongside the rest of us.

For her, it’s her life’s starting line.

But for me, her Bat Mitzvah is perhaps a finish line, and crossing it requires me to let go of the idea that I have much control over the person she becomes.

This heavy paradox compels me to reflect on my final tokens of wisdom for her (and all of the near-horizon B’nai Mitzvah kids out there). I know that my regular readership is not comprised largely of new teens; if you have one in your life, please feel free to clip and share this piece as you see appropriate.

Final Pearls of Wisdom for Hila and All Those Approaching B’nai Mitzvah

• While it feels like a finish line, your Bat Mitzvah is just the beginning. You’ve only had a chance to taste from the grand buffet of Jewish life, so keep considering what you want your Jewishness to look and feel like. In Devorah Baum’s New York Times piece (shared with me by Phyllis Tauber), “We are all Jew-ish Now,” she points out that identity is a continually crafted “ish,” which for Jewish people may mean an uncomfortable re-evaluation of our Jewish “sensibility.” Baum notes, “How pleasurable it can be to find oneself unbound by categories.” Take the chance today, and in all the days of your life, to explore the vast opportunities to be who you are, categorized or not.

• Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. Yes, your parents are taking you to two speech practices, three bimah dry-runs, and two dress rehearsals, yet my biggest hope for you is that you just smile and enjoy the beauty of the blessings even when you get part of the trope wrong or say something out of order. It’s a noble pursuit to bring beauty to ritual, but perfection is not required. Embrace the hiccups and speedbumps along the way, both during your service and in the rest of your life. Good enough lives are lives well-lived.

• Embrace boredom: it’s short-lived. If you’re feeling bored, do something nice for someone (including yourself). Send a text to gramma, lay on your back on the front lawn and look at the clouds, wave to a passing car. Sharing your brightness in moments of boredom adds to your own sparkle. (And remember: thousands of years ago someone fought his or her own boredom by rubbing sticks together. Now we have fire!)

• Remember that listening doesn’t mean agreement. This goes for everyone in your world. Sometimes you’ll listen to your own heart telling you to follow a path, but you don’t have to agree. Sometimes you’ll hear out a close friend (or a parent) and find yourself disagreeing; other times you’ll find that your parents want to really listen to you and in the end don’t actually agree. The two are completely separate activities and both are important. Make your peace with this fact.

• Do the things you’re afraid of (including making bad decisions). Life is one big experiment, and learning to do fear-inducing things now, while you’re still under the care of your adults, is a great way to grow as a person. This includes everything from calling that boy you like to skipping studying for a test; going to the movies by yourself or giving honest (yet kind) feedback to a friend who’s on a bad path. It also means being brave enough to be honest with yourself about your choices.

• Give. Of Yourself. Of your resources. A damn. Just give. A core piece of your Jewishness is giving. Extend this beyond the confines of your “project.” (Hila opted to bring together her love of Israel, dogs, and helping those living with disabilities by organizing a “Bow Wow Walk 1K” to raise money for Israel Guide Dogs for the Blind. As a “Puppy Sponsor,” her $500 goal [if attained] will fund 6 months of food and medicine for a puppy in training.) My wish for her and all other young people is that this sparks a confidence in the joy that giving brings, and the desire to continue in tzedakah regularly.

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