My daughter is in fourth grade, and believe it or not, it’s actually time to start thinking about her bat mitzvah.
When I was pregnant with her, I couldn’t fathom how she’d be able to have any kind of clear religious identity. Wouldn’t she feel torn between her Jewish father and my own hard-to-describe-but-still-incredibly-important-to-me spiritual beliefs? She was the springboard for me to learn about Judaism in the first place. And it feels like it was just the other day that I realized she thought of herself as Jewish the way she considered herself Irish. But because neither of us had converted, according to our Conservative synagogue, she wasn’t Jewish.
I decided to convert when she was 5 and her brother was 2. The mikveh with two small water-phobic children is not an experience I’ll ever forget. While I’m sure that there is enormous emotional and religious significance for most converts, for me, it was more challenging, in a “I have to dunk my kids three times and they have to go completely under” kind of way. My husband and I were living a completely Jewish life; we were Jewish, this just made it official. Kind of like getting married–by the time we got around to doing it, we had already joined our lives together. I didn’t feel any more married after the wedding ceremony, and I didn’t feel any more Jewish after the conversion.
But suddenly–we’re here. A bat mitzvah. And I have a feeling that it’s going to be a lot more significant than the mikveh was.
The more I think about it, the more emotional I get. Which isn’t surprising; I cry at most milestones. But a bat mitzvah seems like it’s so important. Not only because she’s the first in my husband’s family, of her generation, to read from the Torah. Not only because my family will come, of course they’ll come, but won’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on. But also because it’s timed to happen when I’m realizing that this baby girl, this tiny little baby of mine, isn’t always going to be mine. She’s her own person–and that’s terrifying and wonderful at the same time.
Her bat mitzvah is a public acknowledgement that we’re Jewish. That she is Jewish. That she’s responsible for herself now, that she’s going to take ownership of her own religious identity in a way that I’ve been worrying about since before she was born.
She loves the ritual and traditions of Judaism; she dances around the synagogue like she’s grown up there, because she has. But she’s got a “Believe in Magic” sign above her bed and a conviction that fairies do exist. She blends both of us, the Jewish side from her father, and the spiritual intensity from me. She’s got an extra dash of drama and wonder and intensity that’s all her own. And it makes me cry. I’m not sure if I’m crying because I’m grieving the loss of the little girl who’s growing up so fast, or if I’m crying because I’m so incredibly proud of the woman she’ll be.
When she was born, my husband picked out her Hebrew name. It means “beautiful celebration.” That’s what she’s always been for us, a celebration of love and life and so much joy. And on her bat mitzvah, she’ll stand in front of our friends and family and she’ll read from the Torah. She’ll be exactly who she is. And that’s amazing to me.
For more on the bar/bat mitzvah, read about preparing for a bar mitzvah with ADHD, the case of the missing bar mitzvah, and how one rabbinical student is rethinking the time-honored tradition.