Mid October, my granddaughter, Ariella, became a Bat Mitzvah in California, and made us very proud and happy.
There are moments in life which define us. There is a before and an after that particular event. In the present Jewish practice, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is one of those cutting moments. A thirteen year old boy (a Bar Mitzvah) or a girl (a Bat Mitzvah) marks a significant transitional period in life by celebrating it with family and friends during a religious ceremony and often with a big party afterwards.
In Hebrew the expression Bar/Bat Mitzvah, usually translated as “son/daughter of the Mitzvah,” really means youngsters who are now “responsible for the performance of the Mitzvot (commandments/good deeds).” It takes about two years to get a date from the synagogue and six months to learn how to lead the service in Hebrew and English. In most Reform synagogues in the USA, during a Sabbath morning service, which often includes the celebration of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the high point is reached when the candidate chants a section of the Torah portion of the week taken from the Pentateuch and part of the prophetic portion (Haftarah) that follows it. Also, a Bar/Mitzvah usually reads a short commentary of the biblical passages and a message of gratitude to parents, relatives and friends. Ariella did all that. She was nervous but went through the whole thing with poise and a great smile. We were delighted.
In my granddaughter’s temple, they have a lovely custom of invoking God’s blessings upon the Bar/Bat Mitzvah while standing under a prayer shawl (tallit) held by close friends. As a grandfather, it was my pleasure and honor to recite the priestly blessing there as I prayed for Ariella to have a good and long life, contentment and peace.
However, what moved me the most was a moment just before the Torah service when the Rabbi asked us to pass the Torah scroll from one generation to another, as a reminder that we, as Jews, are all connected by tradition, cultural as well as ethnic ties, from our ancestors in biblical times to the present generation and beyond. As I handed the scroll to my wife, and as she passed it on to my son and daughter-in-law, and they gave it to Ariella, I thought of my own Bar Mitzvah in Istanbul in 1951, of my deceased parents and grandparents, and forward to my son and his daughter, with a sense of gratitude and connectedness that can only be described as magical. I was overwhelmed by emotions, my eyes became teary and I had a hard time breathing. Yes, our Jewish tradition is being handed down to a new generation, and I hope they will be proud of it, keep it and enrich it with their own creativity.
Ines and I still have the Bar/t Mitzvah of three more grandchildren to go, and I hope God will grant us the opportunity to witness their own celebration.
Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, PhD