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Archive for the ‘Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah’ Category

I just looked at the date, and realized we are halfway through March, and I haven’t even finished blogging about February, yet.  March has already been a very fun month for me, as I just got back from spending a few personal days in Atlanta, and had such a great time.

When I came back from the Puerto Rico wedding, I quickly got ready for Leah’s Bat Mitzvah.  I have a friend who tutors children, and they were looking for someone to officiate the ceremony, so we worked as a team together.  It was really enjoyable, and the family was so much fun to work with.  The Bat Mitzvah was held on a Saturday evening, so we held a Havdalah service, which seems to be super popular these days.  It happens to be my favorite service, because I love including the contemporary Havdalah music and including everyone in the song and ceremony.  What great fun!  Leah did a great job, as did her sister, who also chanted from the Torah.  It was a beautiful night!

Just before the Bat Mitzvah, I spent a few personal days in Orlando as well, and saw my newest favorite musician, Matt Shenk.  He’s so awesome, and his music is at the top of my “most played” list in Itunes.  He is a master guitar player, has an awesome voice, and his words are so relatable!  Check him out at www.mattshenk.com.

Last week, I had the pleasure of officiating the wedding of Micha and Sam.  I don’t have pics yet, so I am saving the blog story, but they were so adorable, I just had to mention them here.  One of the youngest couples I have married, they are also one of the most mature.  I can’t wait for them to get back from their honeymoon, so I can hear how their first week of marriage went!

This weekend, I am performing the wedding for Annie & Greg. Annie is working incredibly hard at pulling off her wedding on a tight budget, and I think she has done an amazing job.  I can’t wait to see the result of her efforts.

I am also performing a Baby Naming for Mason and Emily, Sage and Jonah.  This is the couple I wrote about last week, titled, A Baby Naming, For all the right reasons…I can’t wait for this beautiful event, and to meet these two lucky little boys.

Trevor is home, and in between, I’m going to try to spend as much time as possible with him.  It’s a busy month, and I am so blessed to be so busy!  And I count those blessings, every day…

B’Shalom,

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I guess I should start this blog entry, by clarifying that no event I’ve ever done has resulted in 3 (or more) entries, until now. Somehow I feel that’s important, because usually, as much as many of my events are warm, moving, loving, and well…exceptional, the story of Max’s Bar Mitzvah is more than all of that put together.

As I sit here in the hotel lobby (drinking massive volumes of coffee), I’m trying to figure out what made it SO exceptional. Was it Audrey, whose grounded-ness, sense of humor, red curls, big hug, and joie-de-vivre is so contagious you just want to sit in a room and talk her head off, forever? Was it Rob? Her Non-Jewish husband who was equally as driven to give his son the perfect Bar Mitzvah as she was?

Audrey & Rob

Audrey & Rob

Was it Edith? Audrey’s Holocaust survivor mother – clear – I mean – as CLEAR as a sunny day, whose only dream in her life was to see her grandson Max become a Bar Mitzvah?

Edith, Audrey's Mom

Edith, Audrey's Mom

Or was it Max, himself? My darling Skype student, who calls me a Robo-Rabbi, and with whom I have shared many deep, spiritual, inquisitive, and wondrous moments together – despite headsets and disconnects, from 1500 miles away?

Max, My Robo-Bar Mitzvah!

Max, My Robo-Bar Mitzvah!

Or maybe it was the other cast of characters. Sharon, my soul-sista, the common thread, that brought Audrey and her family and I together. Or, Hal and Sharon’s children, Bess & Hannah, who so beautifully chanted the V’Ahavta at Max’s Bar Mitzvah.

Audrey with Sharon, Bess, & Hannah.  Where was Hal??

Audrey with Sharon, Bess, & Hannah. Where was Hal??

Perhaps, it was Rob’s sister, remember…Non Jewish Rob, his sister, Judy, who so meaningfully read the D’Var Torah last night, explaining the meaning of the Parsha, Bo. Her desire to complete this simcha for Max and his family, was far more important than the fact that she had never even known what a parsha was before this week. Perhaps she didn’t even know the true story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and the meaning of the story in our lives, but she read with the same passion and conviction I would have expected Edith to read with.

Judy & Doug

Judy & Doug

Or Lara – Audrey’s brother’s wife, with a personality bigger and kinder than anyone I have met in ages. A total rockstar-redhead, with more energy than a whirling dervish. (what is that, anyway?)

Sharon and Edith with Lara (on the right)

Sharon and Edith with Lara (on the right)

Oh wait – it certainly had to have something to do with Rev. Sarah Lammert. I must digress by saying that the Bar Mitzvah was held in the Unitarian Universalist Society, where Edith and Audrey have been attending for quite some time. It is the Society they landed in, when they realized that there were no synagogues that were going to meet their spiritual needs, and whose arms they felt so warm and loved in, when all else, spiritually, had failed them. It was Sarah who opened the Bar Mitzvah last night, and closed – with me – immediately after I led our congregation in Kaddish – and she led with The Lord’s Prayer. (Did you ever know that The Lord’s Prayer is deeply rooted in the words of the Kaddish? Perhaps a separate blog entry for later..) A deeply moving moment, bringing us all of different faiths and walks of life together, harmoniously, in one room, with the feeling that G-d was around each and every one of us.

Gee, maybe it was the amazing New York Klezmer band, who rocked the house in the first couple of hours. As Max and I danced the hora, and led most of the guests around in a hora line, and had an amazing time.

Or Audrey’s friend, husband, and children, who played and sang “I Hope You Have the Time of Your Life”.

Or ultimately, it was Edith’s speech to Max, a moving wish from his grandmother, expressing her deep pride, and a transformed relationship with her G-d, as a result of this night. Or Lara’s moving recount of what a Bar Mitzvah means to her (another non-Jewish family member, expressing her love and hopes for Max).

I think there is way too much to recount, and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to accurately express just what made last night so incredible. I just know it was, because of what I felt in my heart – before, during, and after the ceremony, including now. I know because of the comments and feedback, and joy and love I received from everyone there, Jewish and non Jewish alike. Even the kids, who sat on the floor, in front of Max and I, were enthralled and participative, a moving experience in itself.

Maybe it was the sum of the parts. Each of those parts brought incredible meaning, connection, spirituality, and unity to the night. It was beshert, I suppose, for Audrey and I to connect, through Sharon, and I will be forever grateful for the experience. It not only brought meaning to my life, but I know it did for Audrey and Rob, Max, Edith, and all of the friends and family that joined together in that room. I’m sad that it is over, but richly rewarded for having been through it. I’m sure the impact has yet to reveal itself to me, but it will be my pleasure to carry these memories with me along the road, and remember how I changed one family’s life. It changed mine, too. Audrey, Rob, Max, Edith, Lara, Judy, Sharon, and Rev. Sarah – you are angels, and I’m so thankful for each of you! Max – you are my Robo-rock-star-Bar Mitzvah. I will be forever proud!

The best time EVER! Love u, Audrey!

The best time EVER! Love u, Audrey!

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It is the eve of Max’s Bar Mitzvah.  I am back in the hotel, after spending the last few hours reading and preparing for tonight, and reflecting on the last 24 hours.  My heart is pounding for some reason, today, like that feeling you get when the police car turns his lights on behind you.  I’m not sure why.  Sometimes this happens, when there is so much inside of me, and things going on that I just can’t see clearly yet, and hours of meditation and thought have to occur to see what this message is.  I consider it a message, I just don’t know what it’s saying, yet.  I’m overwhelmed by my relationship to Audrey, Rob, and Max, and perhaps it is just a sign that a shift is taking place in my world, and that tonight is going to be one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I sat with Max for a couple of hours today.  He practiced his blessings, we read through his D’Var Torah, and his prayer of gratitude.  Wait till I publish this prayer.  I sobbed at his kitchen table, and I promise you – these are his own words.  The child is amazing.  We played guitar in his Mom’s office, and shared more philosophy at his kitchen table.  I walked 2.5 miles to his house from the hotel, and another 2.5 back – in 30 degree weather, and it was the best 5 mile walk I’ve ever had.

Max's House, as it was starting to snow

Sure, I love the beach, and certainly don’t know if I could trade my daily walks at the ocean for the walk I experienced today, but, today was special, nonetheless.  I love being here in New Jersey, in the north, in the cold, and among friends I’ve only known for 24 hours but feel I have known forever.

Last night, Audrey (Max’s Mom) had her family over for dinner, and Sharon, Hal, Hannah and Bess were there.  Sharon is my soul-sista, and I couldn’t wait to see her.  It was SO much fun, and I just don’t want this time to end.  Tonight, Hannah and Bess are chanting the V’Ahavta, while Max reads the prayer in English.  It will be beautiful.

Tomorrow, I set out on my journey to see my brides – past and future, and hopefully somewhere along the line, I will get a chance to meet Rabbi Andrea, my friend, in person.  (some technical difficulties this morning prohibited that, but I’m sure going to try to catch up!)  Andrea was responsible for connecting me to Yelena, who connected me to Sharon, who connected me to Audrey, and on and on we go…I know I’ve said all this before, but it’s all so divine, it’s worth repeating.

Thank You, G-d, for this blessing.  I am, once again, the luckiest girl on earth.

B’Shalom,

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After 14 months of arduous preparation, the night of Jesse’s Bar Mitzvah finally arrived!  And, it was worth the wait!

I loved Jesse’s Bar Mitzvah, for many reasons.  First, and most importantly, when I first  met Jesse, over a year and a half ago, he knew he wanted a Bar Mitzvah, but, his parents and I were not really sure exactly what it was he wanted.  He said he wanted to do it, but, most kids don’t really grasp the amount of work, thought, and preparation that has to happen, among their school studies, extra-curricular activities, family obligations, keeping up socially, and well, just trying to be a kid.  It isn’t easy, but nobody ever said it would be.  And getting there, honestly, isn’t any fun, either.  But, I’d like to believe that my kids have more fun than most, because we make it real, and we find the humor, and we try – most of the time, to keep it light hearted.

Jesse didn’t realize what he had signed up for.  Some weeks he cruised right through, and blew me away.  Other weeks, he was like a defiant toddler.  He made sure I knew that he had no intention of working on anything that week, and that we could struggle – if I wanted – or I could just simply accept that fact.  Other times, he wanted to – he just didn’t have time, and once in a while, Ronni (his mom) and I would just chat, and I would agree to accept the facts of life, and pull back on making Hebrew a priority.

Other times, Jesse was an astute student.  He loved his writing assignments, and his written products were deep, meaningful, and profound.  Jesse is an amazing writer.  And, I realized last night, a pretty serious kid when it comes to delivering on a promise.  I think of all the lessons Jesse learned, stepping up and being accountable was one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in him, over 14 months, and I’m so proud – I just can’t put it into words.

The other reason I loved working with Jesse was his Mom, Ronni.  Ronni was always interested in my life as a person, and she made the most amazing cup of special coffee every time I walked in her door.  She is a devoted Mom and wife, and she runs a great household – but she balances that which is critical – and that which is not, with amazing finesse.  Most of all, Ronni (and the rest of her household members) are REAL.  Not trying to show off in a city of sometimes-show-offs, but she and Gary work hard, give their children what they need, and teach the values of lifes ups and downs.

The venue and party was so much fun, and it was also so REAL.  We departed on the Sun Dream, behind the  Doubletree hotel in Fort Lauderdale.  60 kids, and 7 adults, and we held the ceremony on the middle deck.  Quite close quarters, but, we did what was important.  Jesse chanted his Torah and Haftorah portions perfectly, and was a shining example to his friends.  I have to add, that among these 60 kids, there were quite a few kids that sounded like little Yeshiva-buchers!  Wow – they knew every single prayer, and I could actually hear half the room chanting the blessing before the Haftorah along with Jesse.  Now, that’s what I call friends!  🙂

Then, when I sang Jesse “Lechi Lach”, by Debbie Friedman, the kids were singing along, too, and it was a really moving moment.  What I loved the most about last night, was that – we didn’t need a big fancy hotel, we didn’t need a DJ that brought 19 of his favorite high energy dancers, and we didn’t need glitz and glamorous entries and departures, we just needed Jesse, his Mom and Dad, his friends – and well, me.  And you know, I had just as much fun at Jesse’s party as I’ve had anywhere else.  Jesse – you truly became a Bar Mitzvah last night.  You did your job.  You held up your end of the deal.  You shined.  And I am so proud.  Yasher Koach!!

..pictures to come, as soon as Ronni shares them with me!

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What an amazing, heartwarming experience I had tonight.  I cannot wait to share this awesome story.

When I performed Yelena’s wedding in the DR last month, she couldn’t wait for me to meet her friend, Sharon, who I wrote about in a previous blog entry.  Sometimes, you meet someone, and you know the connection is soooo strong, but you just don’t know how or why, and that was the story with Sharon.  We truly were like soul sisters, and we both knew that had 1000 miles not been between us, we would be best friends forever.

Well, last month, Sharon asked if she could refer me to someone, and of course I said “YES”!  Her intention was to connect me with a family who had a young, Bar Mitzvah-aged boy, without previous Hebrew education.  The Mom also had a Holocaust-survivor mother, who had been ailing, and wasn’t sure exactly how long she would have the privilege of enjoying time with, and wondered if there was anything that could be done to give her son a Bar Mitzvah in time for the grandmother to celebrate with him.

Normally, I would consider this a request for a drive-through service – an excuse to throw an audacious party, and would generally not oblige – but Audrey’s family was different.  Last night was proof.

There is no big party involved.  There is no other purpose- other than for Max to share his Bar Mitzvah with his Grandmother, and have the memory of a moving, Jewish experience, in spite of his lack of traditional Hebrew education.  This will be an interactive family experience, and Max will absolutely recite the Maftir blessings, write a D’Var Torah, and know clearly what it means to be a good Jew in the eyes of G-d.

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Max, Audrey, Rob, and Grandma.  It was 14 degrees outside their home, 75 outside mine.  I was sitting on my living room couch, they were sitting in their den.  We put our headsets on, dialed through Skype, and were connected in an instant.

But, that’s not the beautiful thing.

Max and I had an opportunity to share with each other, talk about what it meant to become a Bar Mitzvah, and get to know each other a little better.  He’s a precious, outgoing, happy young man, eager to have this special experience with his Grandmother.

I met Grandma, who couldn’t have been sweeter, herself.  She was so excited that we would all have this connection, and couldn’t wait to meet me.  The feeling is mutual. She is a Holocaust survivor, an Eastern European Jew, and a beautiful woman.  I cannot express how excited I am to be able to share this experience with her.

But that was not the beautiful part, either.

While we were on video chat, enjoying each other, Audrey and Rob brought out the Hanukkah Menorah, and 4 candles.  They placed the candles in the Menorah, Max lit the candles, and together we said the blessing over the Hanukkah lights.  Then, we sang Maoz Tzur, the Hebrew song titled Rock of Ages, and we truly shared an incredibly profound moment together, 1000 miles apart.

THAT was the beautiful thing.

I’ve never done this before, and I was moved beyond belief.  Words just cannot describe this experience, but the memory will last in my heart forever.  Technology is amazing.  It connects us in incredible ways, if we use it properly.  (That’s a whole other blog entry – I think it’s definitely overdone) But when it can be used to enhance our connection with people, to deepen our relationship by bringing personal moments together such as last night, when distance separates us, it is an amazing tool.  And, it changed my outlook on life, just a little…

I’m not sure what I’m more excited for – the actual Bar Mitzvah, or getting the chance to see Sharon and celebrate another simcha with her, and meet her family, but, I think the combination of the two is so exciting, I can hardly wait.  Max, I can’t wait to get to know you better, and share an incredibly meaningful simcha in your life, and your family’s lives.  Welcome to my world!  I’m so happy to be part of yours!

See you in Jersey!!

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I just read Rabbi Lev Ba’esh’s post over on www.Interfaithfamily.com, one of my most favorite Interfaith relationship resources, and was touched by how similar our experiences and positions are on performing Interfaith ceremonies.

Anyone who reads my story on my website, www.mypersonalcantor.com, knows that when I married Wayne, my Christian ex-husband, the list of available Rabbis to perform our wedding was a very short one, at best.  I can’t remember his name, nor do I have a good memory of him at all.  Looking back, he struck me as someone who would marry a cat to a dog, for a check.  Uninspiring, to say the least, but he certainly did not help the Jewish factor in my marriage, as my husband formed a strong impression about him, and related that impression to the faith, overall.  Bad mistake.

I can’t even begin to recount the numerous run-ins we had about how judgmental, critical, conditional, and exclusionary the Jewish faith was, which couldn’t be farther from the truth – but you know as well as I do, that perception IS 100% of our reality.  Sad.

Today, I, like Rabbi Lev, feel I have a completely different impact on the families I touch by my ceremonies.  Also, like him, I am more frequently approached by the Jewish guests than the Non-Jews, with comments about how much I taught them about their own faith.  As Jews, we learn to do and say very certain things, but never learn why.  We don’t learn the meaning in our lives, we don’t learn why.  Our traditions are beautiful.  The fundamental message of our religion is “Do the right thing”.  Read the words to the V’Ahavta – the prayer that follows the Shema, the most important prayer a Jew can utter.  The words tell us to love God, to speak of Him, remember Him, and take him with us in our hearts every day.  If we do that, we will surely make decisions that prove that we were made in his image.  We are beautiful people, with a rich, touching history, and being Jewish is a magnificent thing.  Unfortunately, too many people aren’t shown the beauty of being Jewish.

My ceremonies include lessons about why we do what we do, and what the meaning is in our lives.  I always try to relate a Torah portion or lesson from the Torah in my ceremonies, so everyone can take a piece of God home with them.  In this way, nobody feels excluded, nobody feels alienated, and even the Jews learn just a little more about our beautiful faith than they knew before.

The end result, hopefully, is that everyone who attended that wedding, or even Bar or Bat Mitzvah feels the beauty that eminates from Jewish lessons.  When a couple has decided to marry, it is not up to the officiant to judge that decision, but it is our responsibility to strongly and proudly represent our faith.  It is up to us to hold our heads up and take a stand for why this Interfaith family should NOT turn their backs on Judaism.  It is up to us to put being Jewish in their hands, however we can make that happen.  We should NOT try to force anything on anyone, but I just don’t see how strongly representing something so beautiful could possibly be looked down upon.  If we believe that God brings man and woman together, what gives Rabbis the right to second-guess his decision?

Jewish, done right, is a magnificent thing.  Judaism is the cornerstone of my life.  It is my road map to God.  It is my light that guides me, teaches me right from wrong, and holds me up when all else fails me.  Why wouldn’t I help someone else have that feeling?  We cannot be afraid as Jews.  We cannot run away.  We couldn’t run away in the past, and we must not run away today.  We must stand up proudly, and teach our Interfaith couples that Judaism is beautiful, and can be the light that guides us all.  Thanks, Lev.  You reminded me again how amazing it is that we have the opportunity to do what we do.  I am so grateful.

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After the amazing wedding in St. Pete, I rushed right back to South florida, to get ready for Rachel and Mara’s Havdalah Bat Mitzvah.  Rachel and Mara are sisters, almost 2 years apart, who prepared for their special day together, and it was a great experience, for them, and me.

I always learn from my experiences, and this was no exception, but in the process, the girls became very special to me, as did Robin, their Mom.  I think because the parents were divorced, and I could feel the dynamics of that divorce as it was something I went through myself, I identified even more.  But, Jeff and Robin did a great job of creating a unified front, and making their daughters’ day the priority.

The Bat Mitzvah was held at the Hyatt Bonaventure, on Saturday evening.  The girls’ theme was New York City, and it was really beautiful.  Learning their Torah portions were not easy for both girls, but I must say, they did the most incredible job.  Especially Mara, who had the hardest time, so I just want her to know how PROUD of her I really was that night.

The girls each did 3 Aliyot, the V’Ahavta, and I must say, they both wrote amazing D’var Torah portions.  Their parsha, Lech Lecha, was about Abraham’s journey to a new land, and each girl related their experience of their journey into young adulthood, comparing it to Abraham’s journey into the new Land.  Both girls were amazing writers, and will always look back and remember the special moments of  listening to them express themselves through their own written words.  The opportunities to write personally really made this experience more meaningful to both of them, which…isn’t that the purpose??

Yasher Koach, girls.  I’m so proud of you both.

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