Pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah Rituals: The Educators' Blessing

The B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

"There’s one week to go before your bat mitzvah. Let’s do something when I come over, can I surprise you? Pack some sun screen and a bottle of water, we’ll have a little adventure together."

The bat mitzvah girl was very psyched by the idea, her folks didn’t let on that I’d cleared the mystery trip with them in advance.

We found a spot beside a river dotted with butterfly bushes. Perfect. She helped me neatly set out a colorful tarp and I placed upon it a Miriam’s cup into which we poured a small flask of spring water and a hamsa, a middle eastern symbol for good fortune.

While she watched, with ceremonial consciousness, I traded my every day kippah for the embroidered white one she saw me wearing often at high holiday services, weddings and B-mitzvahs.

"Pam, you are in a time of powerful transition, from a Jewish girl into a young woman. You know how to read and chant our sacred stories from the Torah scroll. You know how to interpret them from your heart, to hear a different message each time you read and the importance of sharing that message with others. You understand the meaning and healing order of the religious services and have studied and experienced the full range of our traditions."

"Pam, you have prepared for your B-mitzvah with integrity, setting aside time from your beloved learning of the violin, from frolicking after school as much as you usually would with friends. You made a stain glass hanging of great beauty as a gift for the synagogue, and you took on making a personal visit to your grandfather at the nursing home every week. The bus ride was long, usually you went by yourself, the home is not in a great neighborhood. You spoke up to the director there about problems you detected and caused a major change in their program. I am very proud to know you, to love you."

"Pam, I was wondering what thoughts did you have the last time you visited your grandfather?"

"Rabbi, when I first started going, he seemed to know me. He would stroke my hair and call me Perele, the Jewish name my family has for me. Now, he doesn’t know me, but he still remembers the prayers, when. I rehearse he sings with me! He rocks like he is praying when I practice chanting my Torah portion.

"Pam, is there anything that you want to let go of, that is troubling or getting in the way during this special time?"

Pam shared three very personal things. We made a plan for how to deal with each one. "Rabbi, what about the hamsa and the Cup of Miriam?"

"The Cup of Miriam symbolizes that in your life you will drink from the well of women’s wisdom. Your body is beginning to give you messages, learn to listen, understand and respect them. Your heart will ring true with messages from your head, body and soul, listen deeply before you acts. The values and principles we have studied, the Torah of a life well lived., this will serve you well. Can I serve you your first sip from the Cup of Miriam?"

"Now the hamsa is for closing. It symbolizes my hope your life will be blessed with good fortune. I want you to know that even if you or I move away from this congregation, that so long as I am alive, if you need me to be your rabbi and friend, I will be there for you. Here is the phone number for my parents, so long as they are alive, they will find me for you. You are precious and loved, if ever you have news to share, call, or if you are hurting or scared and don’t see the someone you need, also, please call me. I want to hear from you as you grow up."

"Can I give YOU a blessing rabbi?"

And she did. Five years later she had serious reason to call and it meant the world to me to help her heal from a terrible event. The cycle of life continues, celebrating, mourning, healing, hoping . . . growing, blessing.

Copyright P'nai Yachadut-Reclaiming Judaism and Rabbi Goldie Milgram