IF I TRY TO BE LIKE SOMEONE ELSE, WHO WILL BE LIKE ME? (Yiddish proverb) by Nora Raleigh Baskin
A Very Different Kind of Glossary (in no particular order):
B’nai Mitzvah: “The plural form for the Jewish coming of age ceremony for boys or a mix of girls and boys. The plural form for girls is b’not mitzvah. Don’t say bar mitzvahs or bat mitzvahs unless you want to make your Hebrew School teacher go crazy.” Nancy K.
Bar Mitzvah: A boy’s coming of age. Also, doing a good deed for a drinking establishment. Debra G.
Bat Mitzvah: A girl’s coming of age. Also, doing a good deed for a winged mammal that can see in the dark. Debra G.
Parsha: “A portion of the Torah that’s assigned for reading during a specific week. Not to be confused with “Parsha, Parsha, Parsha,” which is what Jan exclaims during the Hebrew edition of The Brady Bunch.” Alan K.
Haftorah: Not the half-Torah but rather a selection from the Prophets that connects to the weekly Torah portion. Stacia D.
Bima: raised platform where the Torah and Haftarah are read and where Dani Kari will definitely NOT be doing K-pop choreo for her D’var Torah speech.” Laura S.
Alef-Bet: “The Hebrew alphabet, read from right to left, which is super, duper easy and you’ve totally got this . . . until you find out there are no vowels.” Debbie F.
Shoah: Hebrew for “Catastrophe” a more accurate word than Greek word, Holocaust meaning “burnt offering” Nora B.
Shabbat: The Sabbath; Jewish day of rest, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Also, the evening you have the pleasure of hearing your family sing the blessings so off-key that you wonder if a bag of anxious, Hebrew-speaking cats has been released. And you definitely need a rest after that. So it’s a good thing it’s Shabbat. –Debbie F.
Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. On Yom Kippur Jews are forgiven for their sins against God. They also ask for forgiveness from people they have wronged. Even though some of you might need a week or two to cover everything you’ve done, Yom Kippur only lasts one day. Jonathan R.
Tu B’shevat: “Holiday celebrating the birthday of the trees and a very hard word to pronounce. At least for me!” Nora B.
Seder: “A ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Each participant is obligated to drink four cups of wine, which explains why Passover is the preferred holiday of the Jewish people—and the Manischewitz company.” -Melissa R.
Torah: The first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In ancient times, the Torah was the only place our ancient ancestors could seek answers to life’s questions, whereas now we just use Google. –Debbie F.
Trope: Traditional melodic chanting patterns used in reading the Torah. And a good first guess to use when playing Wordle. Debra G.
Tzedakah: “Charitable giving, typically seen as a moral obligation. Not to be confused with Jewish singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka, who’s rumored to be a charitable guy.” — Melissa R.
Tikkun Olam: “Doing good deeds to repair the imperfections of the world” Henry H.
Lashon Hara: “Don’t talk trash. Don’t talk badly about someone behind their back. Don’t even listen to it because that’s even worse. You think this would be easy, right? It’s not!” Nora R.
To fix the world, act like a giraffe. Stick your neck out! -Sarah A
High Holidays: The holiest days that kick off the new Jewish year that fall on different calendar days every year. During the high holidays, we celebrate the new year, we repent and set goals for the next year, and we blow a ram’s horn. This is a time for attention! Sarah A
Simcha: A joyous occasion. Historical example: Your daughter’s engagement to a doctor. Modern example: Your daughter’s graduation from med school. Debra G.
And now you are ready to read this:
There are many wonderful, meaningful, and terrific reasons to celebrate becoming a B’nai Mitzvah.
You may want to learn more about Jewish traditions that have – for better or worse – remained the same for three thousand years. One Shabbat in your future, you might want to stand on the Bima, face the congregation, and know what to do.
Perhaps you find true meaning in your Torah portion, and explaining to the congregation why is a life changing experience.
You may want to mark the occasion of your COMING OF AGE because your parents or grandparents feel strongly about it, and that’s a good reason, too.
Learning to read Hebrew is also a great reason, as is having to shake hands with people – some you’ve never met before – learning that it is respectful to look someone in the eyes when speaking, being gracious and humble in the face of all those who have traveled, and are attending this event – just because of you.
Look, it might not be the best reason, but maybe you want to celebrate this tradition simply because your other Jewish friends do.
But there is one reason NOT to celebrate a B’nai Mitzvah, and that is because you think you will be less Jewish if you don’t. Little known secret, you are not required to learn the Shabbat prayers. You do not need to perfect the Torah Trope, or chant your Parasha and a Haftarah. And certainly the custom of having a big lavish party is not compulsory. In fact, to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood requires only a short blessing at the beginning and another at the end of the Torah readings. You don’t HAVE a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you BECOME one just by turning thirteen.
What you DO need to do however – regardless of how you traditionally grew up, or didn’t, or how elaborate your B’nai Mitzvah was, or wasn’t – is choose to be Jewish.
Let me tell you a story.
My Jewish mother died when I was three years old, and though my non-Jewish father was, for the most part, an atheist, I grew up celebrating Christmas with a beautiful, sweet smelling pine tree hiding a bounty of wrapped presents under its decorated branches. We left milk and cookies by the fireplace before bed, and in the morning there would be a thank-you note from Santa. On Easter, my siblings and I woke up to candy-filled baskets beside our beds.
Then around twelve years old, about the age when in another life I might have been preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, I began seeking my own identity, yearning for a connection to the mother I never knew, could not even remember.
Who was she?
Who am I?
I began my journey to find out by telling everyone at school (not at home) that I was Jewish, though I had no idea what that meant. When I heard that the Jewish kids in my grade (all three of them) would not be attending school the next day because it was some holiday called Yom Kippur, I was terrified. I realized that if I went to school that day, I would be exposed as a “liar”. Cleverly (if I must say so) I feigned a stomach ache, so that my father would let me stay home from school, too. That day, I wandered my empty house wondering what one is supposed to do on Yom Kippur.
When I got to college, it was much easier to “fake” my new identity. Being surrounded by many other Jewish kids, I would greedily, and secretly, absorb what they knew. Eventually I discovered that Judaism is technically passed on to the child by its mother. This meant that no matter how much I knew – or didn’t know – I belonged, not only to my own mother, but to a long lineage of mothers. Four of them in fact, the biblical matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
I grew up to marry a Jewish man, and because of my Jewish matrilineage it was officiated by a conservative Rabbi. Without any idea of what I was doing, I dove in head first. Before I could pronounce Tu B’shevat, I started teaching 3-4 year olds at our local synagogue. I learned how to prepare a Passover seder – my table decorated with tiny frogs and Moses action figures. My family lit candles on Hanukkah. We attended not only High Holiday services, but dressed in costume for Purim and had a mezuzah on the front door of our home. Both our boys went to Hebrew school, studied hard, and celebrated their COMING OF AGE surrounded by loving friends, and family both Jewish and gentile.
Years later on my 50th birthday, I decided I wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony of my own. I knew it wasn’t necessary, but I wanted to show the world – more so to show myself – that regardless of my given birthright I was choosing to be Jewish.
For me, this means continuing to learn about Judaism, about Jewish culture and its long history. It means embracing the philosophies of Tikkun Olam, and as best I possibly can, avoiding Lashon Hara. I publicly, personally, and proudly identify as Jewish.
For any Jewish kid missing countless music lessons, play dates, baseball games, and birthday parties, in order to study for a B’nai Mitzvah, then standing on the bima claiming, and proclaiming their Judaism is a moment of choosing. The custom of giving Tzedakah, caring for your fellow human beings, animals, and the earth on which we all live, becomes not a concept, but a responsibility. To have a festive, joyful, musical B’nai Mitzvah celebration is well deserved.
And let’s never forget that in some parts of the world, and during many times in history, this ceremony is nothing less than an act of bravery.
Henry Herz and Jonathan Rosen have put together an anthology title, COMING OF AGE, a collection of 13 stories, written by 13 different authors, which we hope will be illuminating for both readers who know nothing (or very little about B’nai Mitzvahs) as well as for those readers, who might, right now, be preparing for this important simcha. The stories will make you think, feel, and even give you a chuckle or two. We are all very proud of this collection.
And you can find us (also in no particular order) at:
Jonathan Rosen: www.Houseofrosen.com
Jane Yolen: https://www.janeyolen.com
Sarah Aronson: www.saraharonson.com
Henry L. Herz: https://www.henryherz.com
Barbara Bottner: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2048
Debbie Fischer: www.debbiereedfischer.com
Debra Garfinkle: www.DebraLGreen.com
Stacia Deutsch: https://staciadeutsch.com
Stacie Ramey : www.stacierameybooks.com
Nora Raleigh Baskin: https://www.norabaskin.com
Alan Katz: https://www.alankatzbooks.com
Nancy Krulik: www.realnancykrulik.com
Laura Shovan: https://laurashovan.com
Melissa Roske: https://www.melissaroske.com
You can find our book at any of the links below:
Albert Whitman Publishers https://www.albertwhitman.com/book/coming-of-age/
Independent BookShop https://tinyurl.com/2p9drv69
Barnes and Noble: https://tinyurl.com/5n6s85ze