By the time you read this, my family and I should have fulfilled a promise I made 13 years ago — if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise (as my mama used to say).
Thirteen years ago, I promised my friend that my family and I would be on hand for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
Back then, thirteen years seemed impossible.
These babies would surely defy the laws of nature and remain babies. They couldn’t grow to be gangly, goofy adolescents spending time and energy on things beyond our limited, but sufficient domains.
Much to our surprise, time stops for no man – or our daughters.
Both girls have grown to be everything adolescence holds true. As it turns out, in our worlds, gangly and goofy is the new baby. And this weekend, my family and I will go to celebrate our daughter’s first friend’s rite of passage.
What a wonderful tradition Judaism offers its young. At an age when their worlds are going topsy-turvy, the faith offers an opportunity to focus on and study wisdom as old and steady as time, plus a chance to reflect on the personal obligations of God’s commandments.
Certainly, the event is more than a party.
The Bar and Bat Mitzvah require work on the part of the adolescent. Our young friend will read a passage from the Torah in front of her temple’s congregation – in Hebrew. She will deliver a sermon inspired by that week’s parshah (like in many Christian faiths, the Torah is divided into parts and studied at weekly intervals, allowing for the whole Torah to be completed in a year).
At any age, but especially having just turned 13, getting up in front of hundreds of her friends, her parents and their friends, her grandparents and their friends requires a certain chutzpah.
Judaism does a good job of connecting the generations – and offers a perfect platform for families and friends to connect and reconnect with each other. During the service, our young friends’ grandparents will hand the Torah to her parents. Her parents will then hand it to her — a link to who she is and who she will become.
The event is a perfect rite of passage, which is sorely missing in so many cultures. Trust me when I tell you that a similar rite is needed for adolescents. For me, this year has been the Year of the 12-year-old. My oldest daughter is 12. I have been surrounded by 12-year-olds as I’ve taught sixth grade. I’ve watched them and learned. So many of these kids – including my own — are searching for who they are and where they’re going. They desperately need faith. They need a greater awareness of commandments to be kept. They need the support of generations who have gone before them and continue beside them offering love and encouragement.
This weekend, our young friend is fortunate to be at the center of all of that.
To her and her family, I say, “Mazel tov.”