Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Song of Hannah

My parents named me “Hannah” without considering, perhaps, the ramifications:
That I might one day see myself in the biblical narrative
And cry as I chant the story of my namesake.
Again. Even as I remember the year my son impossibly ran into the sanctuary the moment I reached the verse, "For this child I prayed."

But, when Sarit was called to the Torah yesterday and gave the gabbait her name I was virtually slapped across the face. "...bat Velvel Yaakov v'Hannah Ephrat" she whispered.
Not to make a point but simply because that's her name.
The same child who stood in our Orthodox shul as the first woman to blow shofar in its sanctuary, her sister the first to celebrate becoming bat mitzvah on Simhat Torah.

My parents named me "Hannah" considering, perhaps, the ramifications:
That I might one day raise daughters who would emulate my biblical namesake
And feel empowered as they connect to God.

So I will chant those ancient words.
And maybe this year I will focus on counting my blessings.
And maybe this year I will succeed in fighting back tears.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

(Among) The Best Bat Mitzvah Speeches EVER

Good morning,
    In this week’s פרשה there is a phrase 
“ארץ | זבת | חלב | ודבש”
“a land | flowing | with milk | and honey”|
What does that mean? I think that the milk symbolizes the resources we give the land that makes our plants grow into food that we can eat. And the honey is because the land is sweet.
But why milk and honey? Why not water and sugar? After all, we do give the Earth water to drink, and sugar is sweet. Maybe G-d wants to tell us that the land is still a baby and we give babies milk not water - I should know.
Maybe “a land flowing with milk and honey” is also meant to imply that Israel is filled with goodness and sweetness. But I know that is not always true.   
This past February my mom and I went to Israel, the land of milk and honey. As part of the trip we visited Roots. Roots, "Shorashim" in Hebrew, and in Arabic, "Judur" ("I don't know if I said that correctly...") is a movement founded by Palestinian and Israeli activists striving for mutual “understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Israelis and Palestinians.”
Although Roots is an organization that joins Jews and Palestinians together, it often meets very close to where a man I appreciated, lost his life as a victim of terror. His name was Ezra Schwartz.
Ezra was one of the counselors in my eydah at camp. Even though he was the boys’ counselor, he was very kind and patient with me. My third summer at Camp Yavneh, I arrived by bus as I always had. I waited for my bunk counselor to arrive but no one came. I got nervous. Ezra had come to pick up his campers from the bus and stayed there with us for 5-10 minutes until he finally suggested that he take us to the girls area. Ezra was an awesome person and we could go to him for any kind of trouble we had whether it was boy trouble or girl trouble. He taught our whole camp the song, “Hashem melech.” It was in his honor that we sang it, today.
G-d wants us to make Israel perfect and sweet like milk and honey. G-d didn’t give us an already perfect land. G-d did give us a land flowing with milk and honey but also a land filled with giants as it said a couple weeks ago in פרשת שלך-לך. G-d made us work hard then to conquer the land and make it perfect. And G-d wants us to continue working so that we can prove that we know how to be kind to one another and make friends with people who are not like us. I hope the organization “Roots” will succeed in helping Israelis and Palestinians to work together towards peace.
Rafi Kesselman was an amazing counselor of mine from just this past summer. Rafi left camp early to enter the Israeli army. When we say the prayer for צהל, I think about him and hope that he is okay. Rafi entering the army shows me that he cares about his family and his country because he had the choice to join the army or to let his brothers and sisters do all the work. This all just goes to show that if you love something, go for it. If you want a sweet and good land, fill it with milk and honey. Not everything will be done for you.

(After Rav Avi's charge to "keep singing) "So...let's sing...V’hareinu hashem elokeinu…"(p. 67)

Sarit, with those words, we carried you into this sanctuary for your simhat bat when you were 2 and a half weeks old. It was the beginning of the period of time during the summer that we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. So, with the lofty goal that you would somehow contribute to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, we brought you into this Bayit and into this community more than 12 years ago.

We did not know then exactly who Sarit would become.

We have always known that Sarit is strong. Sarit’s physical strength is great. Her voice can be loud, her fashion sense is incredible, her attitude is...substantial. Sarit feels very deeply yet doesn’t always dwell. For example when Sarit was younger, and a baby whom we had been taking care of was ready to leave and go to his forever home, it wouldn’t be unusual for Sarit to exclaim, “Oh, NO. But I love him. I want him to stay with us forever. Can I have pasta for lunch?”

Sarit can be more helpful than you could really EVER imagine. Two or three years ago we were taking care of a baby who would sleep OK at night, but would be kind of restless in the early morning hours. One Shabbat morning, I finally gave up trying to get him back to sleep on my own. I took him to the living room, put him in the baby swing, and ended up falling asleep. I woke to an annoying rustling at the end of the couch. Now, I should back up and share that the rule in our home is that when the kids wake up Shabbos morning, they have to get dressed first before doing anything else. So, there I was, half asleep, VERY annoyed, and I realize the “rustling” was Sarit who was MAYBE 10 years old struggling to get dressed with one hand...with the baby in her other hand. OK, how many of you can hold a 3-week-old in one hand while getting dressed?! I said, “What are you doing?!” She said, “Well, I had to get dressed. But the baby woke up. And you were asleep!”

I have many favorite “Sariti stories.” But I’m the only thing standing between you and lunch. So, like I did with Gavri, Sarit, I’d like to learn with you a little bit.

(call Sarit)

(p. 561) Amar Rabbi Elazar, amar rabbi haninah: talmidei chachamim marbim shalom baolam, she’neamar “v’khol banayich limudei hashem, v’rav sh’lom banayikh. Al tikreh banaich, elah bonaikh”

The line, “read not ‘banayikh,’ ‘your children,’ but ‘bonayikh,’ ‘your builders.’” was the theme for this summer at camp. Our rabbis have long understood that in order to achieve peace, we must not merely study it...hope for it...but to work for it. To actively build it.

Sarit, you are hopeful.  To stand feet from where someone you adored lost his life and then to stand HERE and proclaim hope for peace is perhaps not surprising, given your age. But to actually achieve it, will take a lot of work. Sarit, I wanted Ezra’s parents to know that their son had made a difference to you and that we were thinking of him, today. So I sent his mom your speech. And last night, she sent me a message. (It's OK to cry. . . ) She wanted you to know how much she appreciated your words and how meaningful they were to her...and that their family will keep them to read together at their Shabbat table.  Sarit, I bless you that your personality, your attitude, and, God help us, even your voice, remain strong as you continue to hope for and work towards building peace.

Bat Mitzvah Tkhina
Compassionate, merciful God, we thank You for the joy You have given us this day. May our daughter live a long and healthy life with peace and blessing. May she be guided in the proper paths ordained in your Torah to study, fulfill commandments, and perform good deeds. God in heaven, we pray that You help our child to be good, that she find favor in Your eyes as well as in the eyes of all people. Just as you have dealt kindly with us and helped us raise our daughter until this day please continue Your kindnesses and allow us to raise her and her siblings to Torah and awe of heaven in honor and dignity. Dear God, may our happiness never be marred and may we be able to lead her to the wedding canopy.