On the Birthright Bat Mitzvah

September 5, 2017

On the Birthright Bat Mitzvah

 

Last night, I sat in a circle outside with forty of my peers and a rabbi as I read scripture in Hebrew for the first time. I read Deuteronomy 26, one of the several chapters of the Torah in which God grants the Jewish people the land of Israel, along with her milk, honey, and fruits. I spoke about eating the dates referenced in the passage while here, in this homeland I've never visited before. My sweet friend Rachel blessed me; I sobbed; my friends and classmates pelted me with candy and chanted “Siman tov u’mazel tov.” Three, four, five stars appeared in the sky and Shabbat ended in Jerusalem.

 

Rabbi Anna compared this Bat Mitzvah (for a twenty-year-old who learned the alef bet exactly six days prior on an airplane) to a Vegas wedding. It did feel rushed, a little giddy, haphazard. As Vegas is to wedding glamour, so must Jerusalem be to Bat Mitzvah spirituality, right? Without my family and anyone else from the community that raised me, it was perhaps as close to a Bat Mitzvah elopement as is possible. Nervous about showing off my new Hebrew skills in conjunction with a strong history of stage fright, I read my verses with a Roman-alphabet transliteration in front of me. Afterwards, the whole group went to Ben Yehudah street for drinks and street food.

 

But then, there were the parts that were incredibly meaningful in this unique Bat Mitzvah. I regret my family’s absence, but I am glad to have made this choice completely independent of their pressure. So many Jews I know were pushed into a Bar or Bat Mitzvah by lovably overbearing parents; this was a Bat Mitzvah on my own terms, of my own accord. I love that I'm not thirteen, unsure of what it means to make a real, lifelong commitment. In my tongue-in-cheek comparison between a marriage and a mitzvah, it seems absurd that a thirteen-year-old be ready to make that choice; I certainly wasn't. I knew it then, back in 2010, and am even more confident now in my choice to wait. During the service, Rabbi Anna pointed out that I am already a Jewish adult, already a woman in the Jewish faith; for me, a Bat Mitzvah was not a transition into adulthood as much as a transition into a leader in my Jewish communities. An adult leader being pelted with candy.

 

And then there is Israel. The chapter I read, Deuteronomy 26, grants this land of milk and honey to the Jewish people. The honey referenced in this oft-repeated phrase is date honey, not honey from bees, something Mollie taught me on the second day of our trip. In the first half of the trip, before Shabbat, I ate dates in fresh, dried, and honey forms. With every date, I thought about how important it is that the Jewish state exists here, despite all of the danger and harm Israel’s establishment in 1948 caused. Date trees don't grow in Greenland, another proposed site for the Zionist state. We all know a Jewish woman or girl named Tamar, the Hebrew word for date; we all recognize the phrase “land of milk and honey” as a sobriquet for the levant. After ruminating on what it means for the Jewish homeland to have existed here both for seventy years and for three thousand through date trees, this specific chapter was a special one for me to read on the day of my Bat Mitzvah. The reverse is doubly true: my Bat Mitzvah was a special accomplishment to take on during my first trip to Jerusalem.

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