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Aug 22 2014

My Island Family Surprised Me With a Simchat Bat

By at 1:44 pm

bagels

Lately, being Jewish on North Haven–the small island in Maine where we live–has felt like a non-issue, though I still tend to think of myself as the only one. Which made it all the more surprising when, as I was getting ready to leave the seasonal bakery I run and go pick up 3-month-old Penrose, my friend Rosa, one of the nearly 1,000 summer visitors we get out on the island, stopped me.

“The girls and Mark and I were talking and we wanted to organize a naming ceremony for Penrose if you’d like,” she said. “I bet it will be the first one ever on North Haven!”

I paused, momentarily stunned. I had considered a simchat bat ceremony for her, but real life took over, and between recovery, my husband’s return to work, and opening the bakery, we never got it together. I had also never been to one, and other than the bagel and lox spread at the end, I didn’t know what it would entail. To have someone else run it for us would be amazing.

Rosa explained that her husband would bring the transliterated Hebrew texts with him when he came up from Massachusetts, and her daughters would choose the songs. She would provide the lox, cream cheese, fruit, and champagne, and I would bring the bagels.

What a deal! And one I never expected. Although Rosa’s not Jewish, her husband is, and her girls had bat mitzvahs. That they remembered that I’m Jewish and thought to include my family in a very sweet tradition felt like an embrace.

We chose a Sunday morning for the ceremony. It was the conclusion of North Haven’s Community Days celebrations, and my sister and brother-in-law were on the island for the festivities. I woke up early to boil and bake the bagels at the bakery. I returned home to put Penrose in a festive outfit–I chose an appropriately nautical dress, a gift from her other Auntie. At 10 a.m., Rosa and her husband and daughters arrived at our house bearing catering platters of lox, cherries, grapes, strawberries, mimosa fixings, and a luscious chocolate zucchini bread.

Two other families, each with a young son, joined us. Although none are Jewish, they attend our seder each spring. They organized our wedding and baby showers, and it felt right to have them present. We didn’t quite have a minyan–we had six Jewish people–but it worked for our purposes. The boys ran laps around the house to burn off a little energy before sitting.

We gathered in a circle in the living room and Mark explained how it would work. The songs and prayers were printed in programs they had made. The girls would sing the first stanza of each song, while my husband played the guitar. He invited everyone to attempt the transliterations, although he reassured the non-Jewish people present that their accents wouldn’t be under any scrutiny.

“You don’t need to sound like you’re clearing your throat,” he said.

We began with a song. The girls’ voices blended beautifully as they confidently taught us the melody. The prayers–the Shehechiyanu, the Shema, the blessing for a child–resonated despite my secular leanings. Some of the words and tunes were familiar. The other mothers snuggled their boys close, although one got too wiggly before the end and went home with his dad. Bill and I explained Penrose’s name–her Cornish heritage, and the Penrose triangle that came to represent her to us before she was born. Her grandfather 3-D printed a Penrose triangle for us, and coincidentally a Star of David appears in the middle when it’s viewed from certain angles. I revealed her Hebrew name, Hannah Leah, which she shares with my mother. Penrose, perhaps aware of the solemnity of the moment, let loose a particularly loud poop.

We ended with a prayer for peace and one more song, and then it was time to eat. The younger daughter performed a small mitzvah and changed Penrose’s diaper. We systematically destroyed the plates of smoked fish, cream cheese, fruit, and those bagels. We sipped mimosas and marveled at the moist chocolate zucchini bread. The whole gang of us, summer and year-round, visitor and island native, Jewish and non, practicing and secular, took just an hour that sunny Sunday morning to honor and welcome our Ashkenazi, Guatemalan, Italian, German, Cornish baby girl.

Like the mimosas, it was a perfect mix.

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