This will be the last of the bar mitzva posts for quite a while – we won’t have another bar mitzva for 3.5 years, though we will have a bas mitzva coming up in the fall!
On Friday, we rented a car for a few hours so we’d be able to take all the food to the hall. Ds18 and dh took care of all the loading and unloading – it was a lot of food and supplies and a lot of work. This was the part I was least comfortable with – all the people who knew what was cooked and for when weren’t at the hall to unpack it and know where things were being put. But someone needed to be at home to greet our guests arriving from out of town and take them to the homes where they were staying.
I got to the hall about 3:30 pm, bringing dd11 and the three littles with me. I took the littles so that the older girls wouldn’t have to worry about getting them ready, and would be able to get there quickly. This was very nice of me :)(since having them running around when I was trying to get things done really wasn’t helpful), but in the end everyone arrived at the hall about five minutes before what I thought was the latest candlelighting time (I found out later that there were ten minutes more than I thought)!
(Tonight dd17 was able to recover the pictures we thought were lost!)
Since there was so little time, our family photo was very rushed – there was no time to set everyone up. Basically we quickly called everyone in and said, ‘look at the camera’! But I’m happy we got everyone in at one time! That doesn’t happen often anymore, especially now that ds18 doesn’t live at home. (If it looks like a lot of people, we actually have one more than usual – my mom is on the left.)
We had our own minyan in the hall for Friday night – there was a separate room that we set up as our synagogue. It was kind of funny – for kabbalas Shabbos (first prayer service when the Sabbath begins), ds wasn’t able to be counted in the minyan, but for maariv he was, since he turned 13 when Shabbos began.
After the services, we had dinner together – such a nice group of people! I’ll have to go in order of when we knew people from. First of all was the 18 year old daughter of a friend of mine, who is studying in seminary in Jerusalem this year. I’m putting her in chronological order first since our connection with her family began when I was twelve – her mother and I walked down the aisle to our eighth grade graduation together! We later became good friends when we lived a couple of doors away from one another as mothers of young families, and became walking partners. It’s been over 12.5 years since we’ve been neighbors, but we’ve stayed in touch through the years.
One older couple came from Beitar – we met them when we were married just a few months and spent Shabbos there to see if it was a place we’d want to move to. Now I’m just about at the stage of life they were when we first met – they made aliyah with a family of ten children, when their oldest was 18. Their oldest daughter had just gotten married when we met, and during my visit last year to Israel, they married off their ninth child. We did end up moving to Beitar, and they were there for the bris of ds13!
Then was a family of 6 who came from Raanana; I met the wife the first week that we moved to Seattle when we were both watching our kids play in the kiddie playground of Volunteer Park. When she told me she was Jewish, I invited them to our home for Shabbos lunch, and our friendship grew from there. Later we moved to Baltimore, and they visited us there a couple of times when they were on the east coast. Then in 2006 they moved to Israel, and we lost touch. Thanks to Linked In we were able to find each other again, and they made the trip up with their four lovely daughters. (This was really nice since a couple of our girls connected with theirs and spent all Shabbos together.)
Then a couple came from Efrat. We met them at our wonderful shul in Baltimore. You don’t get to know every person who is in the same synagoge as you, but we got to know them better when my older kids helped prepare the food for the annual Simchas Torah meal that this couple arranged each year for the shul, before they made aliyah. We were reminiscing about this as they cut up the chicken prior to the lunch meal on Shabbos day! This same couple met us at the airport when we arrived, bringing us food and drinks and arranging our transportation from the airport to Karmiel. They were our Baltimore connection.
Then we had three young men: best friend of ds13, son of my dearest friend in Baltimore; 19 year old next door neighbor of this same friend who we’ve known for nine years; and 19 year old cousin of ds13’s best friend – after being friends with the family for so many years, we know just about everyone in their extended family!
During this dinner meal my husband spoke about ds13. Following that, I shared with everyone a family custom we have: at every person’s birthday, we go around the table and everyone shares something nice that they appreciate about that person. I hadn’t asked the kids to prepare anything in advance and made it clear that no one was being put on the spot, but anyone who wanted to say something was welcome to. I was pleasantly surprised that a number of our guests shared some nice thoughts, in addition to most of my kids.
After the meal, dh went home with the littles, and I stayed with a number of the older kids and guests to get ready for our kiddush the next morning. We got home after midnight, but it was nice to know that we could be more relaxed the next morning.
The next morning we got up really late – 8 am – and we were supposed to be dressed and out of the house by 8:15 so we could be at shul on time to hear ds reading the Torah! I really didn’t want to wake the littles up, knowing they hadn’t gotten to sleep until 11 pm, and they wouldn’t have a chance to take a nap until much later that day. But we got them up and with their groggy participation, got them dressed. We got to shul literally three minutes before ds13 was called up to read the Torah. I had a couple of minutes of worry, not being sure when to throw the candy – I could see the little kids had all come in from outside and were looking expectantly to where we were at – but I was having a very hard time hearing the services and couldn’t tell exactly what they were up to. Fortunately, we threw it at just the right time and it was fun watching all the little kids scrambling (not mine, though, and I had kept a few back since I knew they wouldn’t elbow their way in a crowd to get candies). Ds did a great job reading; dd15 commented that it must be a lot of pressure to have the chief rabbi of the city right at your elbow, but he didn’t get flustered.
After the Torah reading, we went to the hall to get ready for the kiddush/meal. It was gray and rainy, the worst kind of weather for a kiddush because who wants to go out in the cold and wet? A half hour before the kiddush began, the sun emerged from the clouds and began to shine brightly – it turned into a beautiful day! And it stayed that way until an hour after our lunch meal was finished.
There were a lot of people who came – I really wasn’t able to guesstimate in advance how many people would feel enough of a connection to us to come, particularly since the kiddush wasn’t held at the shul, so people had to make more of an effort to get out. It’s not an automatic given that people go to a kiddush – they don’t, unless they know someone, and we’ve only been living here for five months – so it was really, really nice. I felt very surrounded by communal warmth.
After the kiddush, we set up for the lunch meal. Ds13 told me that at the bar mitzvas he’s been to here, everyone has a full mechitza (divider) between the men and women. Well, I told him, we’re not going to. ‘But Mommy, you can’t! Everyone does it.’ Yes, that really swayed me. We had the table of ds13 and his friends at one end of the hall, the table of older girls at the other end, and all the other tables filled with families. Someone at the end of the meal told me they had made a bris in the same hall, but it wasn’t nearly as nice. I asked her why? And she said, she thinks that having the mechitza changed the entire atmosphere – women couldn’t see when someone on the other side was speaking, so they continued talking and the speaker couldn’t be heard, little kids went back and forth from parent to parent, and it just didn’t seem as cohesive. She said it was so much nicer the way we did it, without compromising in any way.
There was loads of singing by ds13’s classmates – a nice thing about ds being the youngest in the class is that they’ve been to so many bar mitzvas, they all know how to act properly, sing the same songs, etc. Then at some point they did some fun stuff with all of the older boys in the hall – lifting ds13, building a human pyramid – I watched them but I don’t know exactly what they were doing, but they had fun and it was appropriate. And entertaining for the rest of us to watch! (The mother of one of the Israeli boys there later told me, ‘I heard that the boys had a lot of fun at your bar mitzva!’ I don’t know what, if anything, was different than any other bar mitzva, but I’m glad they all had a good time.)
During this meal, dh spoke again – in English – and then one of our guests spoke – in Hebrew. (The night before, a couple of ds’s classmates who had been invited to stay for dinner asked me if the meal was going to be in Hebrew. ‘Nope, all in English’, I told them. ‘What about tomorrow?’ they wanted to know, ‘will it be 50/50?’ I laughed and told them, ‘maybe 2/3 English, 1/3 Hebrew’. When first thinking about this, I had been a little apprehensive since most of his classmates don’t speak any English, but we felt that as our family celebration, it was more important that it be in a language our family was comfortable with. This worked out really nicely.
Everyone who wanted to was welcome to hang out after the meal, but otherwise was invited back for the third meal later on. Later on, people trickled in, and it was a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere – by this point, our guests had a chance to get to know one another, so they were interacting with each other very naturally. After that we again had a private minyan for maariv, and made havdala there.
It was such a nice, nice Shabbos! Every single person who came really enhanced our joy. Sometimes people assume that lots of other people will go to an event, and their presence won’t be noticed, but I appreciated every single person – and this isn’t just because we were new here. I’ve felt this at every one of our family celebrations that when people take time to share our joy, it enhanced the experience for us all.
I’m really so grateful for how smoothly everything went. I kept whispering ‘thank you’ to Hashem (G-d) throughout the day; sometimes you feel very aware of everything being done for you, almost a conscious feeling of being given a gift, and this was one of those times. I was also very grateful to have been emotionally present and relaxed for the entire weekend; sometimes people get so busy with the technical aspect of arranging a simcha that they lose sight of the bigger picture, and can get irritable and irritated with their family members. I really didn’t want that to be me.
To sum up, it was a wonderful weekend in every way, and especially since until three weeks ago I had been dreading the entire experience, am very, very, very grateful for how it all went!