Monday, November 2, 2015

On Becoming a Bat Mitzvah: An(other) Open Letter to my Daughter

{On October 31, 2015, my older daughter became a Bat Mitzvah in a beautiful and moving service that she led. It was 1 year and 10 months after the open letter I published here, hoping to convey to her why this rite of passage was so important to me. Below are the words I spoke to her after her own wonderful speech,}

Well, Becky, I thought this day might never come.

No surprise, you did a beautiful job leading us in your Bat Mitzvah service. After all the wrestling it took to get here… well, I am so proud to be your mother. And maybe it’s worth a few words about why. You are radiantly intelligent. And you’re beautiful. And you just read the Torah in Hebrew, and there weren’t even any vowels. You’re gifted and blessed in so many ways.

But those aren’t the things that make me so proud. Those are the things you were born with, your genetic inheritance, what some would call God’s gifts to you. You got those gifts without any effort or intention.

No, what makes me swell with pride is the long, windy struggle that brought you here. You questioned and challenged and kicked – and at the end of that path, you made a choice.  You chose to respect my wishes, even though you found them inaccessible. You chose to approach your practice with determination, even though it ate into your leisure time. And you chose to trust me- even though you did look back over your shoulder from time to time along the way. 

And unlike God in your Torah portion, I knew that your struggle was a good sign; it showed me that you’re not going to just do what people tell you to do without questioning whether it’s right for you. Nothing could make me feel better about your entry into adolescence. I may have lost my temper a time or two along this bumpy path, but never once did I want to turn you into salt.

You’re familiar with Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit whose motto is “People make choices, and choices make history.” Today, I want you to remember this above all: in the words of philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, we are our choices. Life is what you make of your gifts. You can use your creativity and your mastery of the written word to fight injustice. Or you can write it all off as hopeless. The choice is yours. 

My hope is that your Jewish identity will provide a moral compass when you face down those decisions that will chart your course. In your next 13 years, as you become more independent in your choices, as you become a voter and a professional and maybe even a parent - may you always return to the basics. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

You and I recently read a story of a man symbolically visiting his younger self. “You have a lot to learn,” he said. “You have a lot to unlearn,” the younger self said back. Both were right.

And here we are: you, recognizing that you have so much left to learn, and me, knowing that I have to unravel some of my own hard wiring to be the mother I want to be.  

This is the most rewarding part of being your mom: I’m still growing, still being challenged, still learning and unlearning.  

May you always have an appetite for things that challenge you. The rewards are so great.

The light within me honors the light within you, Rebecca. Mazal Tov. I am so grateful to you, and to God.