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Am I Really A Bat Mitzvah (An Original Essay)

Am I Really A Bat Mitzvah (An Original Essay)

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*This is a wonderful original essay by a Jewish day school graduate who is now in high school. This essay won first prize in the Cohn-Haddow Center essay contest in 2022.

Am I Really A Bat Mitzvah

By Ellery Gnesin

Tuesday, March 24th 2020

Standing there, in the middle of dancing at 8 o’clock in the evening, I am broken out of my intense concentration by my best friend Ashlee.

“Ellery! Did you hear what’s on the news?” I have no idea what she is talking about. I could not have known because we are in dance class.

So I quickly ask her with a curious and worried voice, “No, what happened?”

In December of 2019, a virus had been unleashed in China, and had just gotten into the United States. I live in Michigan and the first case had just been reported here.

Ashlee, my best friend, told me, “We are going to have to quarantine. The government just released a post saying that the whole country has to quarantine!” I cannot believe what I just heard.

Tallit for Girls - Bat MitzvahI ask her, “What!? Why!?”

“Because it isn’t safe, they don’t know anything about this virus.” I still do not know what is going to happen. It is just too much for me to comprehend. My Bat Mitzvah is on Saturday and we have to quarantine.

I say to Ashlee, “My parents are here, hopefully I will see you soon!” We both say our goodbyes and leave.

Once I get home I am tired from all the dancing. My legs are aching and I am in pain.

While I am trying to stretch my legs, my mom comes up to me and says, “Ellery, I have some good and bad news.” Oh no. This cannot be good.

“What happened?”

“We are all going to have to quarantine because of the Coronavirus. We already spoke with the rabbi about your Bat Mitzvah and he said that he can’t do it because we have to stay home. We asked him if he could do an online service–”

I interrupt her. I know what was coming, “Let me guess, he won’t do it- and what about the brunch that was supposed to happen after the service?”

My mom continues, “the rabbi can’t do it because of Shabbos. We had to cancel your brunch too because of the quarantine. The restaurant is closed so we have no choice.”

At this point I am on the verge of crying. I worked so hard in the past year to learn my three long aliyot, segments of a Torah portion, out of the seven. I am also really upset for my grandma. She never had a Bat Mitzvah of her own so I wanted to give her the chance to read an aliyah from the Torah. She practiced so hard and I cannot imagine what she is feeling.

I am so focused on the bad news, I forgot there is good news too.

My mom continued on with the good news, “But the good news is that your dad is calling your school rabbi, and the rabbi he had when he was around your age.” I have so many questions.

“Why is dad calling so many rabbis? Why IS he calling rabbis at all?”

“We were thinking, instead of missing out on your Bat Mitzvah, we would do a zoom service for you instead from home. Why not? Right?” I am ecstatic. I am so excited that my Bat Mitzvah is still going to happen.

That night when I go to sleep, I dream about what my Bat Mitzvah would have looked like: In my synagogue, I would stand in front of the congregation and look down at my friends. I would be wearing a beautiful pink strapless fluffy dress. On the dress it would have embedded flowers and fake pearls. To the touch, the flowers and pearls would just be poking out of the fabric. Almost like it would be rough but soft at the same time. The dress would be knee length and I would have a shawl that would cover my shoulders. The shawl would be arm length long and skin tight. The shawl would be cropped and it a white mesh material. Over all of my clothes, I would wear my beautiful Tallit. It is unique, with pink mesh fabric and embroidered designs on it. Imagining wearing all of my beautiful clothes, standing on the Bimah, my Bat Mitzvah would not happen.

I immediately woke up. It is 12 a.m. and I need to sleep.

✸ ✸ ✸ ✸ ✸

Friday, March 27th 2020

In the morning, I look at my phone with its big bright screen. It is Friday. Uch. I don’t want to go to school. Luckily for me, we had just started online school. All I had to do was get up and get on my computer. Not so bad at all.

It was a long day, but eventually, I made it through. These last couple of days have been very exhausting for me and it is just going to get even worse.

Later in the day, around dinner time, my mom, dad, brother, and I get on a Zoom with our family and we have Shabbat dinner. It is not just any Shabbat dinner, it is a peaceful one. For one, my cousins are very loud and obnoxious, so all we had to do was just mute them. Very simple and practical.

The rest of dinner is pretty normal. I sing the brucha for the wine, and my brother and younger cousins sing the brucha for the bread. We eat. We drink. And we say Shabbat Shalom.

As I try to go to bed, I think about what is going to happen tomorrow. I want everything to go as planned but at this rate, you never know.

✸ ✸ ✸ ✸ ✸

Saturday, March 28th 2020

When I awake, a wave of emotions wash over me. I feel scared, energetic, and anxious. I do not know why I feel like this, but it is probably adrenaline. My Bat Mitzvah is only in an hour and a half.

So as I start to get out of my very warm and comfortable bed and I am still sore from dancing earlier in the week. I walk very slowly to my bathroom and get ready. All I have to do now is put on my dress. So, I take the long hike to my closet and put on my dress. As I am zipping it up, I realize I almost forgot the most important thing about my “Bat Mitzvah from home” outfit: The fluffy socks!

When I walk down the stairs, I feel like a pretty princess walking down the stairs to meet her prince. In this case, I am walking down the stairs only to find breakfast and a zoom meeting waiting ahead.

When I finish my breakfast of pancakes, I start to walk to the zoom that awaits ahead.

Why am I nervous? I should not feel nervous.

It’s just a zoom Bat Mitzvah. It’s not like you’re the first one to be doing this. But the truth is, I am the first one.

As I sit down in front of the camera with both my parents on either side of me, I start to think how lucky I am to be having this Bat Mitzvah and how my parents did their utmost best to help pull this zoom off.

“Hi, welcome to Ellery’s Zoom Bat Mitzvah. It’s so nice to see everyone,” my dad starts to say. “It’s very unfortunate that Ellery has to do her Bat Mitzvah over zoom and how we only had two days’ notice for trying to make this happen. I called every rabbi I know to pull this off. I remember myself wanting to be a rabbi when I was younger, but now look at me, I’m an accountant.” I start to laugh at what my dad’s saying. He is making me feel calmer now, which is good.

My dad talks a little more, but not forever. Eventually, it is my turn to speak.

I start to feel anxious again.

What if people judge the way I sing my Torah portion? No, they won’t do that. Yes they will. No they won’t.

I had asked my friends the day prior to participate by singing some of the blessings. Once they start doing the prayers, they start to laugh and giggle. I was so shocked. The only thing I can do is help them.

So I start to sing.

Once the prayers are sung and done, I chant my torah portions. It took about 30 minutes to complete, or at least it felt like it. Then it is time for my Dvar Torah, my thoughts on my Torah portion, which is Bereshit.

“My Torah portion is about sacrifices, the building of the tabernacle, and Aaron and his sons’ role in ritual sacrifices.” I continued to talk about why we stopped doing sacrifices. Although, now as I look at it, we all made and are going to make sacrifices with the Coronavirus. We all are giving up some things. This can be different for everyone, but for me it is my traditional Bat Mitzvah.

I continue by discussing what I did for my Mitzvah Project.

“I raised over 800 dollars from collecting bottles, cans and donations, to donate to bushfire relief in Australia. I am specifically donating to one organization that stood out to me. WildLife Warriors; their mission is to protect and care for Australian Wildlife.”

When I finish, my parents threw candy all over me. I am so happy and relieved that I finished everything.

I go to sleep that night feeling thankful that I had my Bat Mitzvah. There are still challenges that we, my parents and myself, will need to overcome as Covid ravages the world. But in the meantime, I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful I had my bat mitzvah.

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