April 30, 2016
At first I was quite reluctant to begin the Bat Mitzvah process. My family started going to The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism when I was eight and, at that point, I truly didn’t see the need to become a Bat Mitzvah. During elementary school, I would ask many of my friends who already knew that they were going to be Bat Mitzvahed why they wanted to do this, and what the purpose was? Many did not have definitive or clear answers, and this prompted me to want to figure out how I would find meaning in this experience. Initially, my going through this process of learning and discovery was something that was important mostly to my mother, as a way to connect to our heritage and traditions. However, as time went on I took ownership of the experience, and it became just as important to me. Through this journey with Jean, Rabbi Peter, Isabel, and my family I have uncovered a truly significant and special sense of what it means to become a Bat Mitzvah. There has been a great deal of hard work that went into this, but it has also been fun and interesting, has let me develop a sense of creativity, and has given me freedom and independence to make choices about what I wanted to explore and write about. Having to write the majority of one’s own Bat Mitzvah service, as students at this congregation do, means taking responsibility for one’s actions and words.
This process has not only been about my journey but also about understanding the journey of my family and how they got to this country. I realized as I looked back on all of the essays I wrote for today that there are common themes of immigration, seeking freedom, and surviving in the diaspora- both for people and music. It seems fitting that today is the last day of Passover, a time when we remember how Jews broke free from enslavement in Egypt and began their own exodus. Throughout this Bat Mitzvah process I have constantly unraveled new things about my identity, against the backdrop of history and my heritage. I formed connections with my grandmothers, in the retelling of family stories, that I otherwise never would have made, and I have come to have a better understanding about what I value, what my family values, my family’s deep history, and Jewish cultural history. I have learned about what it means to be a Humanistic Jew: that we are all responsible to take care of one another no matter what one’s religious beliefs may be, and that we have a responsibility to shape our own lives and make our own decisions.
I could not have gotten to this point without Rabbi Peter, who led the ceremony today. Thank you for meeting with me over the last 18 months, for entertaining a few major project paper topics before I hit on the right one, and for emailing my dad all of the many klezmer music listening opportunities, in real time, that exist in New York City. I also give a big thanks to Isabel, the director of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah program, for helping with the edits on all of the papers, for her incredible sense of organization, and for her support. Thanks also to Aram for the fantastic music today and for rehearsing with me and with my cousins before we played. Music is what ultimately makes the celebration. To my mentor, Jean, who happens to live just down the street from me, whose encouragement and wisdom have been with me in this Bat Mitzvah process at every step, and who has become a friend of my family’s- I am deeply appreciative of all you have done. And of course, I am especially grateful to my parents, who have helped me to get here today, who have supported me with ideas and creativity in this Bat Mitzvah journey, and who show their endless love for me everyday. Finally, there would not be any celebration without people to share it with. I thank all of you, my amazing friends and family, for always being here for me and for sharing in this day.