This week is filled with anticipation, as my small congregation prepares for our first bat mitzvah. Our first bar mitzvah was in late October, and it was a stunning day, with great celebration and joy. I am certain that this Shabbat will be no different.
It only occurred to me this evening, while talking with the mom of the bar mitzvah boy, why this year’s celebrations are so meaningful to me. After all, I’ve prepared dozens of young people for their b’nai mitzvah ceremonies. I’ve chanted Torah and Haftarah with them until the melodies invaded my dreams. I’ve stood at countless dining room tables as we practiced the choreography of having an aliyah (and taught nervous parents as well as their kids). I’ve vetted speeches, practiced prayers, cajoled and encouraged, cheered successes and commiserated over failures.
But it wasn’t until this year that I stood beside the young person as s/he led the service and chanted from the Torah. At other congregations, the cantor and rabbi had that privilege, while I sat in the congregation, a mere teacher. Oh, there were plenty of speeches that included “a special thank you to Mrs. Singer” and I thought that was enough. Until I had the chance to actually be on the bimah with my student.
Becoming a bar/bat mitzvah is so much more than a performance. “You did a great job” is too trite a response to someone who has just spent two (or more) hours leading a religious service. Because leading a service is a sacred responsibility that goes far beyond mouthing words; the service leader’s role is to enable others to have a spiritual experience, while sharing in that experience oneself. Heavy stuff for a 13-year-old.
I have discovered that it is a precious gift to stand alongside a young person as she takes on the mantle of Jewish adulthood. I’m grateful to my students, and to the congregation that has given me the chance to take this final step of the b’nai mitzvah journey with them.
I’m not sure who’s more excited about this coming Shabbat — me or Samantha. But I am certain that we will both feel fulfilled at being able to celebrate her bat mitzvah side by side.