There are no real rules for attending your first Bat Mitzvah, but you may not want to tell the 13-year old girl’s mom or dad that this is your first Bat (or Bar) Mitzvah, as it doesn’t really come across as all that adorable.
The mom and dad do, however, think you are incredibly awesome for making such a long trip in order to attend. They provide a little gift bag in your hotel room, complete with a thank you note that makes you well-up when you read it and also includes directions to the synagogue and all the other places where you will get your free meals over the weekend!
The night before the Bat Mitzvah is filled with a lot of grown ups who are your own age, but much older. They talk a lot about “their staffs” and the young people on “their staffs.” You contribute a joke about how unnatural it is to work with people born in the 1990’s, but you don’t say anything about how you were actually on “the staff” with those kids.
The Bat Mitzvah is held in a beautiful, modern synagogue and you are not stuck sitting under a basketball hoop in a fold-up metal chair. This is great because you’ve never found basketball hoops to inspire much God in you, and also because cushioned seats are preferred for a 3.25 hour tour.
Seventy-five percent of your family has not attended regular synagogue services, so you are quiet, attentive and respectful. Those who are more comfortable in a synagogue feel okay about talking. My kids tell their dad to shush.
The 13-year old does great. She is self-assured and gives the Cantor a run for his money. (It should be noted here that the Cantor seems to do most of the work during the service and that 24/7 singing guy should get paid a lot more than the Rabbi, who — as far as I can tell — mostly just calls out the Torah page number you’re supposed to be on. (Thank, God!)). The parents surround their 13-year old at the Bimah and read something lovely and beautiful that they’ve written. It is very sweet.
The ceremony’s completion marks the end of a year when the 13-year old has sequestered herself in her room and studied the Torah. When the dad jokes, “Who knows what she was really doing in her room all year,” you suggest that she could have been listening to Katy Perry the whole time and then the dad’s cousin says, “When she got up there, she could have sung verses from the Torah or ‘I Kissed a Girl,'” which was pretty funny, because you did not have that guy pegged as a Katy Perry fan.
After the service there’s a free lunch (!) and the cut carrots are so old looking that it reaffirms your shiksa approach to preparing food for large parties: NEVER, EVER PREPARE ANYTHING AHEAD OF TIME.
The celebratory night time party (free dinner!) is just like a wedding, but for a single girl. The party is fun and appropriately focused on the hard work and growth of the 13-year old. You wonder if you’d gotten that much attention at thirteen if you would have needed so much attention later in life. It’s just a thought, though.
You think about what it was in your own life that took so much preparation, dedication and hard work and resulted in such a strong sense of accomplishment. You realize it was your month-long, 65-mile canoe trip up the Allagash River in 1978, with a group of 12- to 13-year old girls and boys. The next summer you skipped camp and fell in love with the high school junior who mowed your lawn, proof positive that thirteen really is the dawn of adulthood.
Shabbat Shalom, Shiksa!