My Bat Mitzvah's Bat Mitzvah

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Sealfons Department Store Displaying Bathing Suits, Blizzard of '96Jordan's Bat Mitzvah, January 6, 1996 Today is the 13th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah - my Bat Mitzvah’s Bat Mitzvah. In Ridgewood, New Jersey (where I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah), it was the famous “Blizzard of ’96” which delivered two feet of snow to a town where bathing suits were prematurely displayed in the windows of Sealfons (a department store founded by Samuel I. Sealfon of Ridgewood, New Jersey.

It’s been a while since I attended a Bat Mitzvah or revisited my own, so allow me to reminisce. A few highlights:

1. The chanting of my parsha was a family project. I chanted three aliyot of Parshat Vayechi while my mother, father, aunt, and uncle chanted the others. I remember listening to recordings of aliyot numbers 1 and 2 (my mother’s and my father’s) on a cassette tape in their car. The trope-listening car ride has since become something of a tradition.

2. I opted to wear an Orthodox woman’s black hat on the bimah. Though I had no interest in wearing a kippah while chanting Torah and leading services, I was nonetheless required to cover my head. So, I took a trip with my mother to Monsey, New York to buy a velvety, wide-brimmed black hat. It was a rather baffling experience for the saleswoman to sell a hat designed for a married woman to a tiny, non-Orthodox Bat Mitzvah girl.

3. I gave my dvar Torah on sibling rivalry in Genesis.

4. I completed a service project which involved swimming with mentally and physically challenged children at the YWCA swimming pool.

5. I had a good idea for a Bat Mitzvah-themed project but, sadly, it failed. I wrote letters to representatives of Jewish communities in countries all over the world - Russia, Argentina, France, Canada, India, and more. In my letter, I explained that I was celebrating my Bat Mitzvah and wanted to learn about Jewish life in other countries so that I could share different Jewish traditions with my Bat Mitzvah guests. My plan was for each table at the reception to represent a different Jewish community. I would design posters (i.e. “Jewish Life in Calcutta”) displaying the letters I’d received along with color photographs as each table’s center piece. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t pan out. I received only one response to my letter - it was from a Jewish man in Morocco who asked me to marry him. Shockingly, I did not accept the offer. At 13, I was not yet prepared to get married (though I was clearly well-prepared to take on the responsibilities of Jewish “adulthood”).

6. After spending the evening dancing to many hours of Klezmer music, my family and I soaked our feet in the bathtub at 3am.

For many people, Bat Mitzvahs conjure up images of thumping DJs, reckless give-aways of plastic chochkes made in China, Tiffany necklaces, and teenagers playing “coke and pepsi” in their socks. I am glad these images are not the memories that dominate my Bat Mitzvah experience (though I do recall a plethora of lime and magenta-colored blow-up saxophones scattered around the dance floor). For me, becoming a Bat Mitzvah really was about living a tradition, celebrating my heritage with my family, and having a few intentional moments to feel proud.

So ... what do you remember about your Bat Mitzvah?

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