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Zoe's Bat Mitzvah

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S: Zoe's Bat Mitzvah September 3, 2011

FC: Zoe's Bat Mitzvah September 3, 2011

20: Dad's Speech to Zoe “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I grew up, I gave up childish ways.” I have always found this passage troubling as it is relentlessly self-fulfilling. As we age, the spirit of youth can be lost along the way. Zoe. As I watch you bring a seriousness of purpose to your work. As I watch you mature and take on responsibility. It is bittersweet. Your growth is a great source of nachos, but it comes with a tinge of sadness. A concern that Zoe will lose her Zoe along the way. As a new father, I would slip away to visit you at day care during my lunch hour. I loved just sitting beside you, holding your little hand. Your tiny hands in mine reminded me of my time with Pop Morris who showed great tenderness holding my childhood hands. My moments with you at day care were short-lived as you frequently cried as I left, and I was asked to stop my visitations. When you were a little older, I loved holding your hand to walk you into elementary school. This too backfired when, day after day, you fled the classroom to regain my hand. While walking hand in hand with you reminds me of the infant napping at daycare and the timid kindergartener, I also recognize that it’s only a matter of time before you let go and stand on your own. Zoe, I want you to know that on your path ahead, I will always be here with an open hand. We recently ran our first 5K race together. Needless to say, we held hands off and on, even when running. I noticed something in our run together. Although I am, for now, a stronger runner, I realized then, that for sometime you’ve been the puling your own weight, choosing the path ahead, leading the charge. My mother tells me that as a young child, I woke up singing. Although my days of singing have waned, the gift of song has been passed on to you. When I hear you sing, I often think of your great grandmother Sookie, ever a nightingale. Our thoughts are with Sookie today as she regains her strength. Your great grandmother Ruth also cherished song. You and Jessie brought Ruth great joy in your sing-a-long during her final hours. It was from these matriarchs that you hatched the idea for your mitzvah project, sharing your gift of song with the elderly. You were a natural during these performances. Not because of the beauty of your voice or your charming delivery. You were a natural because you generously gave of yourself. Something you have always done. On this threshold of new discoveries, please don’t give up all of your childish things. Don’t give up your namesake, the fullness of life. Please don’t lose your song. Not just the singing, but the giving of yourself. Although your voice is changing from that of a child to a beautiful young woman with dreams and hopes of your own, please hold on to your infectious joy. Please don’t lose the song that is Zoe.

21: Mom's Speech to Zoe 13 years and 2 days ago when you were born, we were planning to take home a baby named Alex Morgan (whether you were a boy or a girl). Well, there you were, a gorgeous little girl, who didn’t look or feel like an Alex Morgan. So we named you Zoe Maya, which I think fits you perfectly. When your Zaidy came to the hospital and we told him your name, the first thing he said was, “Every Zoe I’ve ever known has been gorgeous.” I think we’d all agree that you’re no exception, although you’re even more gorgeous on the inside. Zoe, of course, means “life,” and you so fully embody that word, that it needs no explanation. Maya means “generous,” and I mean it when I say that I don’t know a more generous person than you. You are generous with your words, with your time (sometimes at the expense of other things that need to be done) and generous with your possessions. When you were 6, you decided that you no longer wanted gifts for Hannukah, but would rather give the money to charity, and you started a tradition that we have followed every year since then, each of us picking charities and donating in lieu of gift giving (it has been torture for your grandparents, but they’ve learned to spoil you the rest of the year). Your Hebrew name, Michal, means “who is like G-D”. You were named for my Grandpa Manny, who was sort of a god-like figure for me. He was a very quiet, thoughtful man who had strong convictions and good sense of justice. He also had a good sense of himself. Your strong beliefs in what is right and wrong in the world have, I believe, given you an exceptionally strong sense of self. You have had this since an early age when your preschool teacher told me that peer pressure would lead you to start drinking juice and that it would also lead you give up napping with your special blanket. Boy was she wrong. When you went to sleep away camp two summers ago, you didn’t care if others made fun of you for bringing 4 nightlights, wearing Tinkerbell undies, or clothes from Target when everyone else had only designer labels. The most remarkable thing about you, though, is that you will hold your parents’ hands whenever and wherever. A couple of years ago, when I walked you into a big audition, I said, “Are you sure you want to hold my hand?” I asked you the same thing the first day of middle school (actually, I think I suggested then that you might not want to hold my hand) – both times, you responded that of course you wanted to hold my hand, and thought I was crazy for asking you. Sometimes your convictions are kooky (there really are no sharks in pools). But that’s what I love about you. You are your own person and you feel so solid in who you are. Even though I had to sit on you to write your Dvar, those were all your own ideas and I don’t need to tell you to practice what you preach. I know you will continue to work with people who have been marginalized, I know you will continue to play a leadership role in community activities and tikkun olam, and I know you will make your mark on this world in a remarkable and positive way. You have brought so much joy to your family and friends. Even when your dad and I are so incredibly frustrated with you, we look at each other and say, “We wouldn’t want a boring kid.“ And that’s definitely not what we got - you are so full of life! I am going to leave you with a couple of stanzas from a poem that my Omy wrote for me at my Bat Mitzvah. I wish I could replicate her thick German accent. Today you ascend the pulpit, the beginning of privileges and obligations in your Jewish life – May you ever be a pride to your parents an honor to our people, a credit to our country, such must be your strive. May you always have a positive attitude in every way – and comfort yourself with, “Tomorrow’s another day!” Use your intelligence wisely and keep that beautiful smile – and may the Lord grant all of us to see you walking down the aisle. May G-d continue and let you grow in strength, wisdom, and health – then you have aimed and achieved life’s greatest wealth. I love you so much!

34: Dvar Torah – Ki Teitzei My Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is essentially a list of rules. For example, it includes rules about staking people, "If a man is guilty of a capital offense, and is put to death, and you impale him on a stake, you must not let his corpse remain on the stake overnight." Rules about mixing seeds, ''You shall nor sow your vineyard with a second kind of seed, else the crop-- from the seed you have sown-and the yield of the vineyard may not be used;" and rules about what you can wear, "You shall not wear cloth combining wool and linen." When I initially read the portion, I could not find the slightest way that it related to my life and becoming a Bat Mitzvah. And then I thought about the concept of laws. Laws keep people in line, and even though they cannot fix every dispute, laws help structure a community. I think laws are building blocks to society. They guide us toward communal responsibility. When examined figuratively, the rules in my Torah portion can be translated into general guidelines about how to live our lives today. For example, one of the rules in my portion is, "When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it." Today, we have laws such as this one that are meant to protect the community. For example, there is a law against driving under the influence. This is a law that not only keeps the driver safe, but the community around us safe. It protects the greater good. But maybe laws are not enough. As Helen Keller, someone I greatly admire, wrote, "Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained." What I think she was saying was that we can have all the laws in the world, but until we care about each other, we won't have a strong society. Unlike drinking and driving, there are some things that people do to support other citizens that are not dictated by laws. F or example, if you were at a playground, and your child was on the swing and you knew other kids were waiting to swing, you wouldn't let your child stay on the swing for a long time. It's kind of like a pact ... a pact society members make to try to help each other out. One of the most important qualities a community needs to have is trust. Trust that you don't need to constantly be watching what is around you because you know everyone has taken care of their part. My Torah portion states, "If you see your fellow's ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it." We need to trust that others in the community will do their part. In the end, trust turns out be a product of communal responsibility. Becoming a Bat Mitzvah means that I will have the opportunity to more fully participate in community activities. For my Mitzvah project, I decided to bring the arts to the elderly. I wanted to do something I enjoyed and that I hoped others would enjoy too. When I used to sing for my Great Grandma Ruth, it brought her so much joy. The last time I saw her, we sang songs together, and even in those last few days she still remembered familiar tunes. In honor of my Great Grandma Ruth I wanted to bring that joy to many more people. F or my mitzvah project I sang old show tunes at the nursing home where she lived and also at Shalom Park. I know that my Grandma Ruth would have been very proud to know that I had done this mitzvah. When I talked with Rabbi Evette, she asked me how my mitzvah project was going. I told her that it had been a challenge to engage the residents of the nursing homes and that I wasn't sure if they were enjoying the performance or not. I think she saw that I might have been uncomfortable working with the elderly. She helped me see that a lot of people in society are marginalized, like the elderly, and in Judaism it is our duty to reach out to these people. After meeting with the Rabbi, I went home and re-read my torah portion and found that there was a passage that directly related to what she had been telling me: "When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow." This quote is telling us that we need to reach out to those who many times we marginalize. Not everybody is so lucky to feel part of a community. Throughout history, the Jewish people have often been marginalized. We need to push ourselves to be inclusive even if it may be uncomfortable. This summer I read a book that made me think about the discomfort marginalized people often feel. The book was about a family with a disabled child. At one point the mother made a comment to her daughter about how the community kept their distance. The mother said, "I learned a long time ago with you - that folks who are trying to be kind would rather do it with a macaroni-and-cheese bake than any personal involvement." I think what she meant is that no one bothered to ask what she needed or how they could help. They never bothered to really listen. I think that our duty, in addition to reaching out to the marginalized, is also to listen to those in need, because this is the only way to actually find out how we can best help! I volunteered at the Sewall Child Development Center this summer. This preschool enables children of all abilities and learning styles come together to learn and grow. They integrate children with physical and mental disabilities with normally developing children. When I first took a tour of Sewall, I thought about the kids with disabilities and those without disabilities very differently. By the end my two weeks there, if you asked me which kids had a disability and which didn't, I would really have to think about it. The school creates an atmosphere where no one is marginalized. This was an important lesson that I took away.

35: My Mitzvah Project taught me another important lesson - how to connect with the elderly. At first, I didn't know how to engage the residents of nursing home and it was uncomfortable. It was very hard for me to be up there singing because the audience was not showing any enthusiasm, so I thought they weren't enjoying it. Since bringing them joy was the whole point of the mitzvah project, I wasn't sure what to do. My dad told me not to get discouraged. He said, "Even if you can bring just one person a little bit of joy, you know you have done a mitzvah." The next time I went to sing at a nursing home, I paid attention to the residents' body language and repeated songs they seemed to recognize and tried to sing along with. I learned that listening doesn't always have to be verbal. This time, I had fun myself, because I knew that even if they weren't showing enthusiasm in the way I was used to seeing it, they were still invested in the performance. After one of my performances, I talked to a resident who was in tears. She told me that music brings her so much joy. I knew then, just like my dad had said, that I had done a mitzvah that day. By helping lift the spirit of nursing home residents I was taking care of others in my community. Taking care of others in a community is central to the Jewish practice of Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam literally means repairing the world. As I talked about earlier, taking care of one's community can be achieved through both the laws that a community makes for itself, and the choices the people in that community make. And some laws are designed to help us make community. The minyan is an example of a law that brings people together. A minyan is a requirement that you have ten people (over Bar/Bat mitzvah age) to pray and read the Torah. A minyan is creating community through a rule. Attending another's Shiva is example of community coming together, but it is not obligated by law. Shiva takes place when someone passes away. The immediate family holds Shiva to remember the loved one and invites members of the community to join them in their mourning. Many times people choose not to attend these gatherings because they don't know what to say to people who have just experienced a loss. It is not a requirement to attend, but when people push themselves out of their comfort zone and participate, it brings community together to support those that may feel alone. That' s why comforting the mourner is such an important mitzvah. To repair the world, both laws and mitzvot are essential. I am fortunate that I grew up in a synagogue that was so inclusive and provided me with a model of a community that demonstrates the important values I talked about earlier. I am thankful to have learned at B'nai Havurah which taught me to think and make meaning for myself. This helped me understand the relevance of the laws in my Torah portion which enabled me to learn that trusting others, reaching out of our comfort zone, and the idea of Tikkun Olam are central to any community that I want to be a part of. In honor of my Bat Mitzvah, I am making donations to three different organizations that I have supported for many years, all of which work with marginalized populations: The Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League, Jewish Family Services, and the prevention program my mom runs, called Fostering Healthy Futures for children in foster care. As today marks the day when I can help make a minyan and make choices to better the communities in which I live, I will strive to be a responsible young woman, lead by example, step out of my comfort zone, and help repair the world. This day would not have been even slightly possible without so many people. First, Rabbi Evette. Thank you for helping me make meaning in the prayers and my Torah portion. Risa Aqua, my Hebrew coach, taught me everything I needed to know up here, and was so patient with me. Hal, thank you for bringing so much life to the service through your music. I have had so many amazing teachers and role models, through school, acting and singing, who have helped me grow and discover. A few of my favorites are here tonight. Thank you also to my friends. Whether we are eating cupcakes to celebrate the date or admiring Shrek and butterflies, you always brighten my day! I am so thrilled that so many of my relatives and family friends came from far and near to share in my special day. It means the world to me and this day would not be complete without you. To those who could not be here with us today, but are here in spirit, I appreciate everything you have passed down to me. Next I would like to thank my Bubby and Pop Pop and Grammy and Zaidy. From introducing important family traditions, to being my greatest cheerleaders and spoiling me rotten, I cannot imagine having more supportive, loving grandparents. Jessie, you are the best sister anyone could ask for and I look forward to many more uncontrollable giggle episodes during inappropriate times over the years to come. I love you so much. Finally, I would like to thank my Mom and Dad. You both are such inspirations and role models for me. Dad, whenever I need to giggle, I know you have a doughnut story to share. And when I don't need a lecture, I know you have one in store! Mom, when people tell me that I am a spitting image of you I can't get the smile off my face. Thank you for learning all my Hebrew with me, and teaching me useful list making skills! You have both supported me through thick and thin. Thanks for everything ... we all know you are two of the best people in the world, and I am so lucky to spend every day with you! I love you guys so much!

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