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Posts Tagged ‘Bar Mitzvah’

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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I’m so excited.  This is a divine weekend, for sure, and I have been so looking forward to its arrival.  There is such an amazing story about how I got here, which I will tell later, but, for now, the beauty of the fact that I am here is enough.

So, tonight begins Max’s Bar Mitzvah experience.  I’m in Montvale, New Jersey, and we are holding the ceremony tomorrow evening at the Unitarian Church.  Who’d-a-thought?  Audrey, Max’s Mom and I have only seen each other a few times through a unique video-chat setup in their home, so Audrey wasn’t sure we would find each other as I arrived in baggage claim, in Newark, but as soon as I stepped one foot into baggage, we knew immediately who each other was.

Have you ever had one of those times, where you met someone for the first time, but felt sure you had known them all your life?  Well, this is Audrey.  But, it shouldn’t surprise me, because we must not forget that I am connected to Audrey, because of Sharon, my soul-sista from Yelena’s wedding in the DR.  And, there’s a whole story about how I got connected to Yelena, (through Rabbi Andrea in New York) so this whole thing is one big insane Law-of-Attraction story that nobody will really ever believe.

But what’s important, is that I’m here.  I’m here to keep a boy connected to Judaism, whose family has left 4 synagogues, because they never felt welcome, in fact, quite the opposite.  I’m here to let a boy know that his Jewish heritage will never let him down, as long as he stays connected to it, and that the effort he makes is worth way more than the quality he performs with.  I’m here to bring a Jewish and Non-Jewish family together, to help them see the richness of our faith, and the blessings we receive when we embrace it.  I’m here, because G-d brought me here, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Max, I can’t wait to share this moment with you tomorrow.  Audrey, thank you for dinner tonight, and for making me part of your family.  Sharon – I adore you.  You are more my soul-sista tonight than ever.  Rob – you’re an amazing father and husband, and I’m honored to be part of this simcha.  Stay tuned…Max’s Bar Mitzvah, live, Friday night!

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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 was sitting here, thinking of all the overdue posts I have to write about, and all the organizing and task lists that need to be handled, and I realized that before I did one more thing, I wanted to reflect on what has made this month incredibly amazing.  Because, without the events of this past month, next month, and the months after just wouldn’t be possible. I think it’s soooo important to say thanks – even for the small things, like someone stopping by and saying hello on my blog.

First, my Mom had surgery last Thursday on her back, and I’m happy to say she came through with flying colors.  It’s been a long time (Thank You, G-d) since anyone in my family has had any health concern at all, so this one was scary, but she’s on the road to recovery.  I’m so thankful that I have both of my parents, and they are in great health.  The alternative is unthinkable, so I’d like to keep this status quo for a LONG time.

Second, I think Lauren and Trevor are beginning to settle in to this year, so I’d like to say THANKS to them both, for being great grown up children, and spreading their wings.

I have some great new weddings that I am planning – and I am so thankful that the calendar is filling up daily!  I looked at my spreadsheet yesterday, and every month is just jam packed with weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and lots of other great events.  I’m co-officiating a Jewish/Catholic wedding in Gainesville in May, a 2nd wedding for a lovely couple right here at home, the wedding of a good friend’s son, and lots of upcoming events in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and The Bahamas.  (Doesn’t anyone want to hire a Cantor on the Amalfi Coast in Italy????)

On the Bar Mitzvah front, I’m going to do the Bar Mitzvah for my friend Jacey’s brother in law in Chicago, a Bar Mitzvah on a yacht, and then, of course, there is Andrew’s(Spencer’s brother) Bar Mitzvah next year, on the Majesty of the Seas.  I recently began working with 2 new families in Boca, and I’m alternating their tutoring sessions with live & video chat formats.  So, I’m really thankful for web technology that lets me do this, from my office.

Along the way, I’ve met many incredible people out here on the internet, and I’m also incredibly thankful for them, and wish them the best of luck.  The top few are Roz, from http://www.sayitwithecards.com.  She makes beautiful e-cards for Jewish holidays.  Then, there’s Alex Klein (Are you out there Alex??) who I feel very connected to through our writings, in the gulf coast.  I hope he has made his way online after Hurricane Ike, and I have been thinking about him daily.  Tomorrow, I  am meeting Lisa, from Torah Tunes, who just happens to be in South Florida visiting from the North.  Today, I heard from 2 new friends – Audrey & Rob.  Audrey just dropped by and said hello, and I can’t believe how happy that made me.  Just to hear from someone, who took the time to make me feel special.  THANKS.  And Rob – with his very cool Mitzvah Art.  I sent a link to his website around to my most special contacts, and I think I made him feel special too.  OH – And then there is Jenni – She was soooo funny when she sent me an email the other day, pleading with me to book a date for her (sight unseen) and telling me that I fit right in to her family so well, I was going to become a member!  I cannot wait for that wedding!!! (Mexico, May 09)  I actually DO feel like part of the family already!

I’m so thankful for all the great contacts I’ve made, the word of mouth referrals that so many of my past clients have offered, and the work I get to do with close friends, because – that is the greatest compliment of all.  Thanks to everyone who supports me, who has been my greatest champions and cheerleaders, and for those who love me the most.  Those of us whose job it is to give from our hearts, cannot possibly continue to give without the love and support of those around us, and I am so lucky to receive so much love from my closest friends and family.  I am so excited about the coming months, and the opportunities ahead of me.  I am so thankful for my new clients, and my new friends, and I am so amazed at how the universe brings us just the right things, and just the right time, when we have faith it is so.

Thanks.

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I just can’t figure out how each ceremony I do becomes my favorite!  I have so many favorites, I just don’t know how to classify them all, and this past Shabbat morning was no exception!

E&Z – A brother/sister team that shared their special day quickly worked their little ways deep into my heart, bringing me to tears of joy and sadness as we stood on the bimah together at the end of their ceremony.  I worked with E&Z for about 9 months.  Every week, we gathered around the dining room table, and did our thing.  Every week, E brought the most amazing enthusiasm and desire to please, while Z – a bit quieter and less interested in pleasing did his share.

It was actually strange, looking back, to realize that very quietly, somehow, Z’s interest took hold, and he began to change through this process.  Suddenly, his work was done perfectly.  His effort increased, his memorization and trope improved immensely, and I could see – he was actually taking pride in what he did.  Both E and Z always strived to understand the material, and make it meaningful to them, rather than just accept at face value what they were supposed to be doing.

I especially enjoyed working on the 10 Mitzvot with them.  They really took those personally, and I could see they began to mirror the lessons we were working on, and becoming even better and more responsible teenagers as they recognized they were becoming more accountable for their actions.

R – their Mom, well…what can I say?  This woman runs her household with impeccable diligence, rules, structure, humor, and grace.  There was always an upbeat air to her household, yet, you just knew that she juggles a lot.  It’s not easy for a single Mom to handle the kids’ schedules, a job, and planning a B’Nai Mitzvah, but she did such an incredible job.  At the end, she and the kids gave me an absolutely amazing gift that I just want to say thank you AGAIN for – another sign of her caring, generous heart and soul.

But – then…The event.  She did such an amazing job.  It was held at Jacaranda Country Club, and the room looked beautiful.  The chairs were done in a lime green and turqoise blue, and it looked so beautiful.  She had more than 55 kids, and 130 adults, so we were a full house, but it was warm, and you couldn’t help but feel the positive air as you walked in.

I made sure that I set the proper tone for the day.  I knew I had a lot of Jewish and Non Jewish family members in the audience, and it was important that I made all of them feel comfortable and welcome.  I reminded them that it wasn’t about how much (if any) Hebrew they knew, but about the positive prayer they held in their heart for Z & E, that mattered.  We sang, we prayed, we laughed, and rejoiced, as the kids took their spots as adults in the Jewish faith, and in the eyes of G-d.

For me – it became another favorite, but one that will live long in my heart.  Thanks, R, for sharing your beautiful children with me, and for giving me a piece of your family.  I will cherish it forever!

Mazel Tov to The Family!

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Gary Rosenblatt, Editor of The Jewish Week, wrote an incredibly insightful and timely article today, that I felt compelled to finally write about, after giving this much thought for oh – 20+ years or so.

Even though the work I am doing is moving rapidly in that direction, I have been somewhat fearful of putting my exact thoughts in writing, because my feelings really don’t do anything to enhance the traditional synagogue’s reputation in educating our Jewish children. I just got another phone call from a local parent, lamenting about the poor quality of education, the “factory” type of experience, and the negative feeling she had from one of our local synagogues, and she was looking for a more engaging, personal, and meaningful experience for her roughly $20k investment in her child’s Hebrew School education.

Like it or not, families ARE belonging, just for the lifecycle. The majority of Jewish families choose to no longer associate and pay dues to synagogues, once their children become Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Even when families do continue to pay dues, however, the child more often than not ends his or her connection, inevitably to focus on activities in their secular lives, rather than their religious lives.

Overall, families complain to me that they are certainly not getting their 20 thousand dollars worth – Instead, they are relegated to ridiculously early services, only to be RUSHED out of the building, to make room for the NEXT group of Bar Mitzvah attendees – and then what? The service is over at 11 – and – they can’t even have the nice room to make a luncheon, if they weren’t FIRST on the lottery to get the room. Top that off with an impersonal service, a condescending Rabbi on the pulpit who doesn’t even know the child’s name, and a measly two or three aliyot, so they can barely honor grandparents, let alone the Aunts and Uncles and Cousins.

Gary writes, “One seeming disconnect that Wertheimer found in his study is that while most parents see the chief role of secondary schools as preparing children for bar or bat mitzvah, only 7 percent of the schools surveyed listed that as their primary goal. Most schools cited giving children positive Jewish experiences as their top objective.” I believe the disconnect is that synagogues are too busy trying to figure out how to balance the budget with overpaid clergy and Executive Directors, and not enough time actually figuring out how to actually deliver the positive Jewish experiences. Kids are bored, and tired of teachers who are incapable of managing behavior, and have to spend 80% of their time quieting the room, leaving only 20% of their time to effective lesson delivery.

Parents feel that the clergy is more concerned with they themselves want to GIVE, rather than what the families want or need to feel connected. Sermons on the bimah that seem like scolding, or subject material completely irrelevant to today leave families wondering WHY they pay 20k to belong. The whole experience is a disconnect, and all people really want, at the end of the day, is to feel GOOD about being Jewish.

We must define what it is – or will be – that makes us get those warm and fuzzy feelings about being Jewish. Why do huge monstrosities of churches pop up on every corner, with traffic jams EVERY Sunday, and we can’t get a full room at a Sisterhood opening event? Because synagogues aren’t giving families what they really want – and they haven’t even spent a minute trying to figure it out. They decide what the Rabbi will do, and dictate the programming to the congregants, and then wonder why they cannot fill rooms. They’re all coming at it from the wrong direction.

At the end of the day, today’s families want less rules and more engagement. I’m not sure if a synagogue can even possibly meet the needs of today’s families, but I do see more and more spiritual cheerleaders – like myself, popping up all over the U.S. People who want to bring the “feel good” stuff that Jewishness creates, without the annoyances of organization. Synagogues used to mean “community”. Today, we find and create our own little communities, without needing to go inside a building.

I believe, what we really want from Hebrew Schools is less structured, engaging material, that Jewish children can understand and enjoy. Let’s learn more about the 10 Mitzvot, about being a good Jew, about what V’Ahavta means, and why the Sh’ma is so incredibly important to us. Let’s learn less phonetic memorization, and more about what Abraham and Sara really stood for, and why they’re important to us today.

Let’s learn how to live our lives as good Jewish people, doing good deeds, repairing the world, healing the sick, and appreciating what our ancestors stood for. Let’s make Jewish prayer resonate within us through music, ruach, and FUN. It can be done. At least, I’m working on it – every day.

My Rabbi told me I can’t save the world. But, if I can save 20 Jewish families next year, it’s a job well done.

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