On the occasion of her daughter Dora's Bat Mitzvah, Rabbi Rebecca writes...
Someone recently sent me an article that described rabbi’s children as B List celebrities. I thought this would please Dora immensely as she rather likes celebrities. Although probably more of the A list kind.
Rabbi’s children, so he wrote…. have massive extended family, are loved, reviled, watched critiqued and supported. This is fortunate as rabbi’s children may also be neglected by their parent. Cobblers children don't have shoes.
Charlotte Fischer friend of this congregation told me as she was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah she noticed her mother [rabbi SR] cancelling rather a lot of her Bat Mitzvah lessons so much so that she wrote her mother a letter and posted it to the synagogue
I am a member of this synagogue and I have noticed I am having significantly less Dvar Torah meetings with you than other Bat Mitzvah candidates please can I be assured my lessons will be kept.
signed Charlotte Fischer.
Both extremes are true. they are minor celebrities and hugely neglected. I appreciate not many parents get to give a sermon on my daughter. But I hope you will indulge me.
Independent thinking is what we hope for in our young people coming of age -thinking for themselves-being aware.. We don’t want sassiness but we do want independence.
Like in the cartoon with a little girl being told:
Now do what you are told. Don’t you want to grow up to be a strong independent woman.
And this parasha is about being thoughtful and aware.
It contains a large number of the commandments in the whole Tanakh. Nearly one-eighth of the 613 are found here, 72 according to Maimonides. But the rules are about small things bound together by the verse Dora commented upon lo tuchal lehitalem-. onkolos, you have no right to hide yourself. Ethical and moral instruction and advice.
Domestic and personal injunctions that will make a difference; concern for the mother bird-to anticipate this maternal suffering of a bird is so detailed and the reward for doing so the same as honouring ones own parents - a long life; insistence on a balcony on the roof much used in a ancient near east home thus protecting the householders from accident; responsibility to your neighbours to behave thoughtfully to them-even if you do not like them.
Who can wear what and express who they are - the writers of Deuteronomy could not have anticipated how this verse might speak to a 13 year old in 2017. And the joy she would take in wearing her tallit as she reinterprets it. And the fun we would have tying the tzizit with delia - also instructed in your portion.
There is nothing so small that the Torah doesn’t speak to. These tiny rules make up a life that matters. The Judaism Dora has inherited and are committing to; is a Judaism of small detail. Where small acts of kindness make a difference.
Dora-you have grown up in synagogues where small acts of kindness transform congregations into communities. No more so than here.
Where food rotas spring into action for people going through hard times, where people are miraculously brought to services when they can’t bring themselves - to be part of things. Three people cook and we have a homeless shelter. Two write a play and we have a Purim Spiel.
How often I will arrive in hospital to visit to find many have come before me. And We have received such acts of kindness from this our community. Dora has grown up as B list celebrity perhaps but also experiencing kindness and concern from this congregation, always. It is wonderful to grow up with. And I watch you Dora now extend that to others. With your own small acts of caring:
Go out of your way to include a new comer-at school, shul or LJY NETZER. You stand up when others are being mistreated, you show kindness to adults who care for you by demonstrating your love so warmly.
You learned by heart Hilary Clinton’s words to little girls so you could remind your friends: "never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance & opportunity in the world."
You are ready for this coming of age.
You have watched your grandmother always care for the fragile in her community ; leading KIT at her synagogue-always hosting and visiting people that benefit from being noticed and counted.
You have learned from your youth movement that creates connections for life-based on equality, friendship and tikkun olam-repairing the world with small steps…. and this your synagogue I watch you so proud of - does small things so well.
It was not an Ibn Gabirol, or a Maimonides or a Spinoza that did the most for the jewish mission-it was small nameless communities that maintained the Moral Law…so said Claude Montefiore in 1927. That is us in this synagogue and that is us in our Jewish families that sustain tradition and responsibility however small.
At a Bat Mitzvah it was Geffrey Salkin who created the idea of a a river of tears flowing from one generation to the next, connecting small deeds and expressions over the years. Tears are usually salty but these are sweet. And they flow today with joy.
Dora you are Named for two great-grandmothers, Alma Birk and Vera Hageras and your great grandfather Ellis Birk. Daddy and I wanted you to have their spirit, audacity and kindness. You carried great anticipation and love. I visited their grave this week to unleash the river that might flow today.
It is hard as a parent once said to praise your child - it feels like praising oneself. But you are a marvel Our only girl endlessly kind but headstrong...Clever. But dreamy. Always gauging the impact of your behaviour on others. Always aware of people’s feelings-especially those in your family.
Daddy and I have always been so charmed and amazed by your fierce independence …you got here by all your own efforts. I can’t remember having to ask you, ever. You have been organised, focused and above all joyful. You bring so much love to everything you participate in-including this, your Bat Mitzvah. Even your tzedakah project is about small things making a difference: wigs of real hair for children who lose theirs and bathrooms for girls who otherwise couldn’t go to school.
You have been a blessing getting here to this day and I hope will feel blessed moving on from it. Your choice, your work, your vision, your ideas.
You bring such joy with you. If your portions about noticing, watching and seeing. This is your blessing of what I have seen of you.
I see you standing in your cot leaning on the bars smiling waiting to be lifted out.
I see you riding your first red bicycle, always determined and independent, even when your brother knocked you off, accidentally.
I see you following Ruben - your superman copying whatever he was doing.
You blowing the trumpet so beautifully at 6 years old and continuing to do so when you’ll agree to pick it up.
I see you wearing a pink hijab on our trip to Jordan - because you could and they were there.
I see you fighting me fiercely, shouting Not Fair.
Our only girl between our two beautiful boys.
And embracing me in front of your friends. crying I love You Mummy. Often.
I see you curled up in bed with your cat - both of you wrapped under the covers and on the electric blanket.
Or dressed for Little house on the Prairie at Purim. A strong line in irony at the spiel and school play.
I see you eating grandma Toby’s chicken soup as a flexible vegetarian.
Or slung with your legs on my mother, your grandmother who you adore.
A golden day dreaming girl, your head always somewhere.
Or waving good bye with nonchalance when I drop you at Kadimah.
Your confidence overwhelms me, as does your sensitivity and the hurt you so easily feel. Both will be useful.
I see you this summer reading The Colour Purple, but pausing often to leap fearlessly off rocks into the sea.
And now I see you now becoming Bat Mitzvah, all your own work to get here. Never needing cajoling because you wanted this. You bring joy.… wearing your peach and yellow tallit you love so much, becoming something new and yet the same.
May you remember this day, the love that surrounds you and the skill you brought to this, your Bat Mitzvah.
Ken Yehi Ratzon