What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me: SZ (2018)

Full disclosure: Preparing for this Bat Mitzvah was HARD! If I had to do it all again from scratch, knowing how much writing I’d have to do, I’m not sure I would have done it!
However, I just may have become a better writer in the process, and I definitely learned more about my family, myself, the Torah, my Jewish roots, and the value of community service.
Moreover, I feel very lucky to be growing up in a much more progressive time and place than my parents did, and in an amazing city with so many different and unusual options for experiencing Judaism. It enabled me to find this very particular Humanistic Bat Mitzvah program.  I also realized how lucky I am to have any Bat Mitzvah, let alone with a Humanistic congregation which fits so well with my beliefs.
Many families know they’ll want Bar/Bat Mitzvahs for their children from early on, but hardly so in my family.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was twelve that I finally thought to ask my mom, “Will I be having a Bat Mitzvah like my friends?” Quite luckily at that same time, a close and ‘equi-Jewish’ friend of hers found The City Congregation, which was the first version of Judaism to ever make sense for my family.  Before that, we had never heard of a congregation which focuses on culture, values, and history.
For my mom, despite growing up in Long Island amongst lots of Jews, there still weren’t as many options for Jewish education as I have today. She went with her family occasionally to the nearby Reform temple, but there wasn’t much there which resonated with her.  Looking back, she says she learned little from her Bat Mitzvah, memorized a paragraph of Hebrew, and was entirely focused on the party details.  She also didn’t enjoy nor admire the rabbis which helps me to realize how lucky I am to have learned with Rabbi Peter; and all the more so as I am the last student to experience this wonderful coming of age ceremony under his leadership. [Please, let’s give a round of applause to Rabbi Peter!]
In Moscow during the 1970s and 80s, my father had substantially fewer religious options than my mother did. There were only two Jewish congregations in the whole city, neither was very popular, nor fit in with his family’s beliefs. He knew few other Jews, no one who had had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and pursuing any formal Jewish education was never even considered.
I’m happy to have connected with my ancestors, keeping with tradition, but in a more meaningful way which is consistent with my personal beliefs. I know that without this process I would have never sat down and thought so much about my ancestors. I learned how Jewish culture was a part of each of them. I even learned about some ancestors I hadn’t known existed! And that my great-great grandmother was a highly respected doctor in Soviet Russia (which may even explain why so many in my family are doctors today)! In fact, throughout this process I also had the chance to learn a lot about the person I spend the most time with – myself! I learned about my inner values and beliefs and dove much deeper into these things that have been a part of me my entire life! And may I also mention some of the ways in which I explored these values? To fully appreciate our value of humor, my amazing mom took me a couple of times to comedy clubs, and we even got to see Bonnie McFarlane perform live. (Though, yes, we may have exaggerated about my age just a bit!)
Speaking of my amazing mother, I would like to thank her first for putting up with me, and for not strangling me throughout this tiresome process which focused on one of my least favorite activities- writing essays! The amount of work she put into MY Bat Mitzvah is phenomenal (and I hope she doesn’t start getting all emotional about it). Thank you! I would also like to thank my dad for teaching me so much about my heritage and giving me so much to work with history-wise. That includes my wonderful grandparents, Babushka and Dedushka, who have taught me everything in Russian. Thank you Nash and Micah for always being there for me with your, “I hate yous!” Don’t worry, I love you guys like crazy too. I would also like to thank my wonderful mentor, Sam Maser. No matter how long it took me to write an essay, her edits and suggestions were always there within twenty-four hours. Along the way she also taught me so many amazing writing skills, to use not only in this process, but also for the future. Also, I want to thank all of the Bar and especially Bat mitzvahs that came before me.  They pioneered and paved the path to a more accepted and meaningful process. Additionally, I would like to thank Rebecca for sharing her beautiful voice and enthusiasm today, Alty who guided me through the Torah selection I worked on, Isabel Kaplan as the head of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program and foremost, Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, for being such an excellent leader of an entire community of skeptical Jews, and especially for squeezing in one final Bat Mitzvah ceremony and guiding us here today!!
Lastly, I would like to thank all of you today for coming here to celebrate with me!