Hey lady! It's your 31 year old self again.
I can't believe it. It's finally time for you to celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah! That is so exciting! I know that you are crazy nervous, but you shouldn't worry!
You are definitely going to get through this, and I'm very pleased to tell you that you don’t drop the Torah. I promise!
I wanted to send you a quick note to tell you some of the the things that I wish I had known before I walked onto the bimah.
(Please note that I didn’t say that these are things that I wish someone had told me… because, let’s be honest, lots of people did tell us all of these things… but our 13 year old brain was too full of stress and *NSYNC to listen.)
So- I present to you a collection of advice that should help you now that you're moments away from becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
1. Try not to spend the beginning of the service flipping ahead to the prayers that you'll have to lead. If you don’t know the words by now, you’re not going to learn them after services have already begun. (Also- you know the words… so calm down.)
2. Take a second and savor the fact that your big, diverse family has come from all over the country to celebrate your becoming a Jewish adult. This is not a universal experience- so make sure that you take a mental snapshot and treasure it.
3. Whether or not the kids that you don’t get along with come to your service is not important. So stop thinking about them and start appreciating the friends, community members, teachers, and more who have chosen to spend their morning celebrating with you.
4. Notice how distracting it is when an entire row of middle schoolers gets up to go to the bathroom/lobby in the middle of the service and vow never to do this again.
5. Accept the fact that you will always be more interested in going to B’nai Mitzvah services than the dances that accompany them. That’s who you are, and I can promise you that in your life, prayer will play a more important role than the dreaded "Snowball" game/torture. And- guess what! No other dance or celebration that you will attend after 7th grade involves these kinds of forced moments of fun! Isn’t that exciting!
**A quick note of explanation for those who have not experienced the wonders of this game. At some point during the party, the DJ would stop the music and announce that it was time to play “Snowball." The dance floor would clear, and then the Bar/ Bat Mitzvah would be put in the middle of the floor and told to ask someone to dance. This initial pair would dance to whatever slow song was playing (shout out to the classic musical stylings of 1997-98) until the DJ shouted, “Snowball,” and then they would separate so that each could ask another person to dance. This went on and on until most if not all of the kids were dancing. I’m sure that other people experienced “Snowball” as a fun activity but those people were not named Rachel Bearman.**
6. While your Bat Mitzvah service will be a special moment in your life, please try to remember that your parents and your family have also spent years preparing for this experience. That means that you should try not to take your stress out on them. They’re nervous too, and on top of their nerves, they're dealing with the emotions that come from being able to see the larger story of your life- something which you are definitely too anxious and too young to appreciate. So, try be nice to them... even if you’re freaking out.
7. While this is the first service that you have ever led (SPOILER ALERT- it won’t be the last), the rabbis sitting next to you have done this a lot. So, trust that they won’t let you somehow mess everything up and be the most catastrophically terrible Bat Mitzvah since the beginning of time. They are your safety net in the same way that you will be the safety net for students in the future. Trust them. They’re the rabbis.
8. Repeat after me: The Torah is not a test that you can fail. The Torah is not a test that you can fail. In fact- I’ll just tell you now how you do! While you’re reading your portion, you’re hand is going to be shaking so much that you will lose your place. You’re going to panic silently for 30 seconds, not wait for any of the clergy standing next to you to point the yad to the next word, skim the text for anything that looks familiar, and then- after you find a word you recognize- start reading again with gusto. Rachel- I’m going to be honest with you- you’re going to skip the verse that includes the commandment about keeping Shabbat. And... it’s not going to matter. At the end of the service, every member of the clergy is going to smile and tell you that you read beautifully. So… once again… and with feeling this time… the Torah is not a test that you can fail.
I’m going to finish by telling you what I tell my students and myself: Services aren’t a play where you try to learn lines and then perform them flawlessly.
Services are real life. You’re going to try your best, and you’re going to make mistakes because that’s how real life works. A lot of people are going to tell you not to worry because no one will know if you mess up the Hebrew, but that's not that the point. The point is that even the people who do know won't care because they're proud of you and all of the work you've done to get ready.
So don’t aim for perfection. Aim for caring deeply and trying hard.
Ok, I know that you are most likely rushing around the house, getting ready, and trying to figure out why your parents suggested that you save the purple cream eyeshadow for your dance instead of your service (Quick answer- it’s because they’re wise)- so I’ll sign off by saying GOOD LUCK! You’ve got this. Make sure you get out of your own head enough to enjoy it!
Rabbi Rachel Bearman (Ps: We become a rabbi!! How fun is that!)