I was staring at the beautiful family photograph on his mahogany desk. All I could think was how my family used to look exactly like that—happy. Now there was one less person, and only sadness.
My rabbi said hello as he walked into his office, pulling me away from my thoughts. He sat down and asked me how I was doing.
He already knew. He was the same rabbi who performed the funeral service just three months earlier.
My husband had gone out running on what was a typical Sunday afternoon. When he returned home, he had a sudden heart attack and died almost instantly. I was shocked and devastated, as were our two daughters, who were 10 and 12 at the time.
For the first few months, I only tried to survive. It took all my strength just to get us through the day. I coped by avoiding anything that would cause me any more stress than I already had. But the clock was ticking, and I knew I now had to deal with the one thing that would give me the most anxiety of all—my daughter’s bat mitzvah.
We had set a date for May. It was now January. I could not imagine putting an entire bat mitzvah together in only four months, especially while I was still grieving. But I couldn’t stand the thought of disappointing my daughter. She had been through so much already. Then there would be my younger daughter’s bat mitzvah, which was coming up in just two short years. What would I do then? How could I do for one and not the other?
I looked at my rabbi with tears in my eyes and explained how I was struggling with this. I then told him about an idea that I had been toying with and how it might solve my problem.
My thought was to have a b’not mitzvah for both of my girls together. I would wait until the following spring. My older daughter would be 14 and my younger daughter 12. That would buy me some more time. Time to get a service and a party planned, as well as to pull myself together.
I looked at him full of hope, believing he would think that my idea was brilliant. I thought he would instantly be on my side and help me to explain this plan to my girls.
Instead, he looked at me and sighed.
“I can’t imagine how hard this is for you,” he said. “But I am going to give you my opinion as a rabbi, and more importantly, as a father. Your daughters have had a devastating loss, as have you. My fear is that if you do this, they will resent you for it. If you make them share their special day, they may feel as if you took one more thing away from them, after they have already lost so much.”
He then added with compassion, “I will do anything you want. I will gladly do the b’not mitzvah. If you would like me to perform the service standing on my head, I will do that. Just think about what I said.”
I didn’t have to think about it. The moment my rabbi mentioned my daughters resenting me, I knew what I was going to do. No matter how difficult, I would make them each a bat mitzvah. I just did not know how to get it together in such a short time.
My voice was cracking as I told him all this.
He smiled and said it was not a problem. We could postpone it until after the summer so my daughter and I would both have a little more time to prepare. We also came up with the idea to do a small service on a Friday night because of our unique circumstances. It would be less overwhelming that way. The party would be right after.
We did it. With a little help from friends and family, we created a beautiful and meaningful night for her. The intimate Friday night service was perfect. We were surrounded by family and friends, which was just what we needed. I was so proud to see my daughter on the bimah, and I couldn’t help but think that her dad was up there, too.
Afterwards, we had an incredible celebration. I was surprised to find myself constantly on the dance floor having a great time, as were all the guests. Seeing the smile on her face the entire evening made the effort I had put in worth it.
Planning a bat mitzvah during that time in our lives was not easy, but I did it without regret. Today, I am happy that I was able to give my daughter a special evening for herself. Two years later, we created a night just as memorable for her sister.
I will always be thankful to my rabbi for being honest with me. I know he was right. Both of my girls will always have fond memories of their bat mitzvahs, memories of a little brightness during a dark time.