As I neared the 12th birthday of my oldest daughter’s life, I sought ways to imbue this milestone with more meaning than what has become of our traditional parties. That’s not to say that these things aren’t fun or memorable; they are. I certainly remember my own bat mitzvah, especially how my mother actually let me miss a day of school to take me shopping for a dress because we couldn’t find anything that fit, and that I distributed “save the earth” tattoos as part of my giveaway, because those were the only tattoos we could find, and I was really into skin-inking. Very bat mitzvah relevant.
Because my daughter’s birthday is one of the last in the class, I feared that by the time her party rolled around, everyone would have already lost interest in the monotony of the celebrations, and I still wanted to create something memorable and special for her. The plus side of wasting a lot of time on Facebook enabled me to come across an ad for a Mother-Daughter Bat Mitzvah trip through Emunah, and I quickly made a screenshot of the flyer, in hopes that I would revisit it later, although more likely that it would get lost in the abyss of my camera-roll on my phone. I also mentioned it to my mother, wondering if she’d want to join my daughter and me on such a mission, and she said she would.
By some miracle, we managed to get ourselves together and arrange to go on the trip, and I think I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. It was slated to be a “Five Towns” group, and that got me all worried that I wouldn’t be fashionable enough, but that thought quickly evaporated when we arrived in Israel and all fears of being unstylish vanished when the true nature of the excursion settled in. Rebbetzin Lisa Septimus, of the Young Israel of North Woodmere, led us, and explained that each day we would be involved in Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chassadim. Our itinerary was packed with several stops each day, as we made efforts to immerse ourselves in these pillars of Judaism.
What we accomplished, the myriad stops we made on our 14-hour days—visiting religious hotspots like Kever Rachel, Ir David, the Kotel and Gush Etzion; studying Torah at famous seminaries for women; volunteering at Pantry Packers and Leket; and bringing goodies to soldiers at checkpoints or spending quality time with the disabled at Shalva or those at the children’s home Bet Elazraki—all felt like it was the building of a foundation for what I’d like my daughter to become. She was living and experiencing the lessons on life I had tried so hard to impart. But even more so, for me, it was a reminder of a life that exists beyond the borders of New Jersey.
It’s easy to get caught up in our daily routines; for some it’s their jobs, or others such as myself, the repetitive grind of serving breakfast, dodging a tantrum, ushering the kids out the door, then sweeping the floor and breathing for a few minutes before repeating again with dinner and homework. The regimen can become cyclical and suffocating. And so this bat mitzvah trip actually renewed me. It rebuilt my own foundation for what it means to be a Jewish woman. It pieced together those tattered shards of the puzzle I had carefully assembled through years of my own Jewish education, but had become neglected through the refocusing of the bulk of my energies on raising a family. There it was, the clear picture of who I should strive to become.
My six packed days away felt like a month, and now that I am back in New Jersey, it’s hard to settle into my mundane life knowing how many layers exist elsewhere. Each trip to the supermarket reminds me how there are those who cannot pay for their own food, but receive the generous bounty from Leket and Pantry Packers. Buying Chanukah presents for my kids reminds me that there are over 200 children in a group home who do not have the luxury of celebrating the holiday with their parents. Each moment of every day is celebrated with the blessings of my own world, and the internal stirrings of wanting to be something, or someone, better.
Even though I went into this trip hoping to inspire a change in my daughter, to celebrate this turning point in her life, I was blessed to walk away with a shift in my own vision, with a new lens to experience the world around me. It is my utmost wish that we can all find time to examine our personal goals, and that we should have the strength and fortitude to fulfill the shape of our maximum potentials. Lebee Bamizrach.
By Sarah Abenaim
Sarah Abenaim is a writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected]