Lauren’s Bat Mitzvah

Rabbi Allison Berry, Temple Shalom, Newton MA

A Story of Perseverance, Humor and High-Fives!

Tutor and girl working together

We gathered together in front of the open ark. Wrapped in her beautiful tallit, Lauren stood proud and tall, as she received her blessing. Lauren’s Bat Mitzvah was the culmination of many months commitment, hard work, and yes, also joy and laughter. Despite her initial anxiety, Lauren shared her voice and personality, as she chanted from Torah, taught her friends and family about Jewish tradition, and led the Temple Shalom community in prayer.

Lauren’s Bat Mitzvah was the result of careful thought and preparation that began at Gateways. Last spring, as the officiating rabbi, I met with Lauren, the Gateways team and Lauren’s parents, as we crafted an outline, rehearsal plan and set goals for Lauren’s learning. The Gateways team and Lauren’s mom shared information with me about her strengths and learning style. Lauren shared ideas about what she thought was important about becoming Bat Mitzvah. Together, we decided it would be a priority for Lauren to read from the Torah, chant the Shema and teach the congregation about her Torah portion.

Since Lauren sometimes struggles with anxiety, we planned to meaningfully acclimate her to leading prayers in our sanctuary with the microphone turned on, while wearing the dress, shoes and ritual items she would wear on the day she became Bat Mitzvah (a wool tallit can sometimes be itchy!!). We discovered the Hakafah (the practice of walking the Torah around the sanctuary so the community can be close to the scroll) made Lauren especially nervous. We practiced this moment in her service over and over, planning for the unexpected: enthusiastic guests trying to hug the Bat Mitzvah, people laughing or sneezing and loving family who might cry at this powerful moment. Through these run-throughs, we discovered Lauren preferred high-fives to hugs and decided to communicate this to all guests. We previewed what the day of the Bat Mitzvah might feel like by inviting members of the community into the sanctuary and asking them to make a joyful noise – talking, laughter and everything in-between – while Lauren led prayers. We experimented with the timing of our rehearsals (mornings when we are fresh and not tired are ALWAYS preferred). We worked hard to be consistent but also flexible, to follow our set plan, and we decided rehearsals should last no more than 45 minutes. Most of all, Lauren and our team learned to expect the unexpected.

Lauren chose to write her D’var Torah (speech about the Torah text) about the Biblical brothers, Jacob and Esau. Throughout the book of Genesis, the rivalry between the two is difficult and intense. But finally, at the end of Lauren’s Torah portion (Parashat Vayishlach), we learn they forgive one another. Lauren was fascinated by this story and wrote, “Jacob and Esau forgive one another because family is more important than an argument. Family is something that will last forever.” Ultimately, the importance of family was what Lauren’s special day was all about. On the day of her Bat Mitzvah, through her commitment, intention and good deeds, Lauren became an adult member of our Jewish family.

Lauren taught her teachers and her rabbi a powerful lesson about perseverance, how to start and end rehearsals with humor and how to always appreciate a good high-five. As she chanted and taught words of Torah, Lauren added her voice and perspective to the story of our people. She reminded us, that without her, our Jewish family would be incomplete. 

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