My daughter Jillian is in 7th grade, which in the Jewish religion, means one thing: the year of the bar/bat mitzvah.
It’s been almost four months since we celebrated hers. She’s the baby of three and now we are done. Jillian was a shining star that weekend. She led the Shabbat service and read from the Torah flawlessly. She was surrounded by loving family and friends from near and far. The entire weekend was beautiful and fun and the food and drinks were delicious and plentiful. My 97-year-old Papa Nelson flew in from Florida to be there. The beauty was undeniable.
Milestones, such as this one, are powerful. After having three celebrations in less than five years, I have detected a theme. It is already widely known that the true meaning of a child becoming bar/bat mitzvah can get a little muddled as the party outshines the service. Old news. Pretty sure I’m guilty of that myself. Yet, It seems to me as though something else is going on—this amazing thing that happens when it all comes together…the service, whatever celebration may follow. The milestone, in its entirety, becomes even more than a milestone. It becomes….magical. Why?
Although a child’s bar/bat Mitzvah is primarily a personal spiritual rite of passage for him or for her—some kind of magic happens that cloaks the entire experience for every loved one involved. It goes beyond the clothes. And the dresses. And the centerpieces. And the food. And the music. And the DJ. Even beyond the service.
The magic, I believe, grows from a whole lot of extraordinary things all happening at once. It is this:
1. The pride you feel while watching your child chant from the Torah, lead an entire congregation in prayer, and share wisdom with the community. It is seeing this small person, one who just learned how to spread cream cheese on a bagel the month before, in a whole new light.
2. The appreciation and joy that comes with celebrating a truly happy occasion—when this world is chock full of tragedy and sadness. We are now at that age where we want to soak in all of the good stuff we can. Because we know better. We know how it can all turn on us in a dime.
3. It is a time when we, as the parents, the co-conspirators, the crazy-busy life-doers, can also take pause. It is a chance to look at, to bear witness, to the life we have created together…to bask in the love of family and friends…all of us sitting together in tribute to past, present, and future generations. It is a chance to honor our own parents, our grandparents, and all of our ancestors who came before. It is times like these when we seem to miss them most. We are so sad. We cry. But, they are there. I’m telling you. Call me crazy, but I felt my Nana and my Auntie Esther and Mikey with us the entire weekend. No joke.
4. It is the realization that this is not a celebration of an ending. It is, God-willing, a celebration of a beginning…of a Jewish soul’s entry into adulthood. Your children may not understand the profundity of all of this yet. Yet, at a deep level, they will know that something feels different. And the notion that he or she served as the catalyst that brought all of these wonderful energies together will live with them for the rest of their lives.
And whatever your reality is, as the parent, no doubt you will be able to feel it. I understand that everyone has different family situations and often familial relationships can be broken and bitter. However, if you allow yourself to open your heart completely, to open to the place in you that can take all of the beauty in, to the place in you that will let go of resentments, that will stop worrying about the minute details, the magic, beauty, and love are totally palpable.
And maybe, just maybe, you and your family will let the magic and the beauty of your simcha ripple out into the world–by giving to those who are less fortunate. By feeling a teeny bit more compassionate toward others. By forgiving a friend or family member. By exercising more patience and less judgment. By smiling more.
I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this…
It’s there. I promise. And truth is, if your heart is open, the magic is pretty hard to miss.