Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bat Girl

I went to my first Bat Mitzvah. I learned a lot. Well, some of it was review, but it was interesting to sit in a temple and watch how things go down, ceremony-wise. Considering I have spent the last month feting my son for his arrival at the brink of adulthood, this was an opportunity to see how others signal this moment. Thirteen year-old girls won't be allowed to register to vote, and most of them will still have a few years left to gain their high school diploma, but they probably won't get hassled about getting into a PG-13 movie. This particular girl, now that she is a Bat Mitzvah, does get some perks. The parents are also in for some good news too, since God can no longer punish them for the sins of their child. She is now responsible for her own actions.
Isn't that interesting? There is a ritual, a ceremony, that marks the moment when a child can no longer expect to push off the blame for her, or his, missteps. As far as God is concerned, it's time to hit the reset button. Maybe it's not a real surprise that this passage also coincides with puberty. All that eye-rolling and foot-stomping suddenly becomes God's problem. Now she can read from the Torah. She can possess property. She can, according to Jewish law, get married. And all those laws of the Torah have to be followed.
No pressure.
It also means you get a really big party. Lots of food. Lots of family. Lots of dancing. Plenty of time to consider the significance of the rite that has just been passed on. Depending when your birthday falls and when the next Shabbat is, you could double down on that whole party deal too. But it's not like it's a free ride. There is a lot of work involved. Like learning a whole new language. For me, just sitting in the audience, picking up the Siddur was confounding enough, reading from the right to the left, and trying to keep up with the cantor as these consonant-heavy words fly by. I started to get some. Baruch ata adonai. Ah-mayn. Then I considered the thousands of other words and sounds that remained mysterious to me and my admiration for this newly minted member of the community grew. I wondered if I could have coached my son through such a steep learning curve when he was thirteen. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been much of a Bar Mitzvah boy myself, back in the day.
So it was a big deal. I'm glad I got to wade into a culture other than my own.
Mazel tov!

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