Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On my Daughters' B'not Mitzvah

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cassie and Shay when they were little. I come out of a store and remember this is where they used to scooter down the block, waiting for me at the corner. "Did you see? Did you see?" I walk Maya past the playground and try to conjure, but can’t really, the exact day I stopped taking my girls there. How rarely we know which days are the last.
I pass Yura on Madison during the after school rush, where for years we used to get a snack and I think, thank fucking god I never have to go in there again.
The truth is: this childhood thing goes very quickly. Spoiler alert: From what I see, this whole life-thing goes fairly quickly as well.
I’m told, when I turned three, I blew the candles out, looked at my parents and said, We don’t gots no babies no more.
My babies became B'not Mitzvah today.

What does that even mean? I tried to keep in mind what it means to me. Because it doesn’t mean the dresses, although the dresses, omg the dresses. And it doesn’t mean the basketballs or photo-booths, but seriously, make sure you get a photo.
We’re taught that this is the beginning of declaring one’s Judaism for oneself. This religious right of passage connects us to our ancestors. We become Jewish adults.
And all of this is true, I suppose. But as I’ve watched both of you go from knowing no Hebrew to what I witnessed today, I think in a concrete way, particularly for American Jews, particularly for New York Jews, where there’s a bagel shop on many corners--becoming a BM is about a deadline—a necessary deadline … And I am a writer who loves a deadline. Like many important things in life, if we waited until we felt like it ... if we waited to feel inspired to learn Hebrew, inspired to chant a difficult language in front of every one we knew – we would never do it.
The bottom line is, and I think science backs this up—emotions rarely lead to action—at least not sustained action. Action leads to action. And action changes thinking. For many of us, we don’t EMBRACE our Judaism and THEN read from the Torah. We read from the Torah AND THEN we embrace our Judaism. Maybe.
I hope my daughters feel Jewish their whole lives. I hope they are concerned about injustice, I hope they question authority, I hope they commit to a community. I suspect a lot will change over the years, but I doubt that the power women yield in the home will diminish. The power of Jewish women teaching Jewish children will sustain and I hope they will not underestimate that power, our holidays, our food. The Jewish way we welcome life, how we treat people who need our help, how we atone for our mistakes, how we bury our dead, how we remember our dead. I hope they will internalize in their being that KNOWING your people and LOVING your people, will never take away from loving and respecting ALL people.
Now to get specific.
Shay-Birdy. You were right. You didn’t need to practice your first Aliyah in the car that day on the way to Maine. Had I not forced you, you would’ve done just fine. You’re one of the most organized, competent people I’ve ever known. From the moment I watched you push a very heavy chair across our kitchen, climb up on it, open the cabinet, get out a cup ... and pull open the fridge and pour pink milk –well, you’ve been impressing me for a long time. Shay will figure out when all of her siblings have school breaks—and Olivia’s, research where we should go on vacation, figure out which hotel we should stay in, which flight we should take, and which parent to convince that this is a reasonable plan. You’re also terrific fun to be around, particularly when you’re getting your way. You’re one of my favorite people, and I don’t just mean now, I mean when I think back on my whole life, you are great fun. I do hope you’re not so proud, and so strong that the people around you won't recognize your vulnerability, your tenderness. For what it’s worth, I’ll always know it’s there … but you might want to make sure you always have a dog in your life, preferably a lab.
Cassie-Cass. You are the great thinker. And if you heard Cassie’s D’var Torah today, you know what I’m talking about. Some might not understand that people with learning differences can also be true intellectuals—but luckily your family knows, even if at times we’re careless and talk over you. You are one of the most disciplined workers I’ve ever encountered. I never had to tell you to practice Hebrew. In fact, sometimes I had to tell you to take a break. For those of you who don’t know, this year Cassie investigated new high schools –which meant in addition to preparing for today, she had to study for a very difficult test, go on a lot of tours, interview with strangers, write a bunch of essays, even though she knew in the end, she might choose to stay right where she is. The point is, Cassie, you don’t shy away from hard work, you embrace it.
On Tuesday, at the dress rehearsal, the Rabbi mentioned when in the service he’d give his sermon; Cassie asked what he’d be speaking about. Every week the Rabbi tells 13-year-olds and their parents about the order of service. No one has ever asked what his sermon would be about. Cassie, you are interested in your world around you. Not just your peers, also Grown-ups, people of different cultures, how Obamacare works. I am constantly impressed by your interests, your intellect, and your intuition. I hope you learn how to give yourself a break. You’re one of my favorite people, and I don’t just mean now, I mean when I think back on my whole life, you are great fun.
Cassie. Shay. (to quote HAMILTON) Look around. Look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now. Mazel Tov.