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Growing Up With My Daughter: Becoming a Bat Mitzvah

Growing Up With My Daughter: Becoming a Bat Mitzvah

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Nava Crispe in preschool
Nava Crispe in preschool

I have a hard time accepting that I am a grownup. I still look at “real” grownups and wonder when I will enter that “real” stage myself.

I remember when we bought our first automobile. After years of living in Israel and not needing one (or maybe needing one but not having one), we moved back to the States and purchased a minivan. And for a split second there, as I glanced at my four kids in the car, I actually felt like a real grownup.

My baby is about to become a womanSo being that I struggle with grownuphood in general, you can imagine my apoplexy at the fact that our oldest daughter, Nava, is becoming Bat Mitzvah this week. Yup, according to Jewish law, my baby is about to become a woman. Which, I guess, means I better start seeing myself as one, if I need to see her as one.

I’m not sure when it happened, as I worry I somehow wasn’t paying attention, but my daughter is now almost my height, and we share the same shoes. (And I pray for the day when I can actually fit into her clothes;. just as she prays that she never will fit into mine!)

Nava’s Bat Mitzvah is the week of Parshat Beshalach, the week when we read of the sea splitting and the Jews escaping the slavery of Egypt as they are miraculously rescued and begin to enter into freedom. We also read this week of Miriam, the sister of Moshe, who led the Jewish women out of Egypt in song and dance, with tambourines in hand.

Miriam actually was a powerhouse well before she is credited as one of the women in whose merit the exodus from Egypt was attributed. We learn of Miriam a while back, when she stands up and fights against the decree that all the Jewish baby boys are to be killed. Horrified by such a decree, and terrified of conceiving or birthing a baby boy, couples made the decision to separate from each other, even to divorce, so as to not risk bringing a baby boy into the world. Miriam’s parents were such a couple.

Miriam was maybe five years old at the time, but she confronted her parents. She begged them to remarry and to continue to have children, because by not doing so, they were not only killing the boys, they were killing the baby girls as well. Here was a small child who stood by her convictions and stood up to her parents with a message of truth, even though it must have been a risky and scary thing for a young child to do.

The Sages teach us that “words from the heart enter the heart,” and clearly Miriam’s words were coming from the right place, for they made the right impact. Her parents heeded her advice, and from their union they gave birth to Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people.

We hear about Miriam again shortly after his birth, when his mother, Yocheved, has no option but to put him in the Nile River. After crafting a cradle in which he was able to float, he was placed in the water, but his devoted sister, Miriam, accompanied him alongside the shore. It was there that she saw Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, as she extracted Moshe from the water. And with Miriam’s insight, courage and focus, she approached Batya and convinced her that the baby was in need of a wet-nurse and that she could provide her with a perfect wet-nurse, who of course was Yocheved, the baby’s very own mother.

And then this week, the week of Nava’s Bat Mitzvah, we read of how Miriam led the women out of Egypt in song and dance. It really should come as no surprise. As an adult, Miriam was simply continuing to live in a passionate, committed, dedicated and focused way. As the Jews scrambled to prepare to leave Egypt, which had become home to them for so many years, Miriam had the foresight to take tambourines with her. Not only did she know with absolute certainty that they would be redeemed from the Egyptians and escape to their freedom, she knew that such a miraculous redemption needed celebration, and therefore ensured that the women would have the musical instruments needed to truly dance for the occasion.

I can’t think of a more appropriate Torah portion on which to fall my daughter’s twelfth birthday. She becomes a Bat Mitzvah as we read about an amazing role model for her as a Jewish girl transforming into a Jewish woman. And now she will have to struggle with what it means to be a grownup, at least in certain contexts!

“Grown” is in the past tense. I like the idea of being a “Growing Up” much betterI guess the reason I never related to or liked the idea of being a grownup is that it seemed like once you hit that stage, it was all over. “Grown” is in the past tense. I like the idea of being a “Growing Up” much better, as in truth we are always growing, and we should always be improving and developing and reaching higher. And not just growing, but growing UP!

And even though becoming a Bat Mitzvah means that my daughter is now an adult according to Jewish law, this is just the beginning of the process. She is far from grown up; she is just starting the process of really growing up.

We have many lessons that we can learn from Miriam in terms of the type of person we should want to strive to be. But as a mother of a Bat Mitzvah girl, I want to focus more on the lesson I can learn from her mother, Yocheved. Miriam would not have been who she was if those values, ideals, goals and qualities were not instilled in her by her parents, and specifically her mother. Yocheved and Miriam were midwives together. Miriam grew up watching her mother as a role model of what a Jewish woman is capable of, and how she can not only help and save the physical lives of others, but can provide the encouragement and nourishment to save their emotional, psychological and spiritual lives as well.

Miriam confronted her parents, approached Pharaoh’s own daughter, and led the women out of Egypt because she was raised to be a proud Jewish woman who was instilled with the understanding that she had the power to change the world.

As I prepare for Nava’s Bat Mitzvah and make sure that every detail is the way it should be, I still don’t feel like a grownup. But I do feel like I have definitely done some growing in the process. And more than anything, I feel empowered when I watch my beautiful, intelligent, focused, determined and passionate daughter as she begins the lifelong process of discovering who she is.

I hope to be a source of strength for her, a source of inspiration, and a never-ending source of encouragement and love. And I look forward to standing with her, side by side, as we embark together on our journey of growing up.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Sara Bedein Efrat, Israel January 12, 2011

Mazal Tov! Thank you for another beautiful article. Nava will most certainly always look up to you as her role model and inspiration for the grown up she will G-d Willing turn out to be.

Mazal Tov and Jewish Nachus (joy) to your whole family! Reply

chasha Montreal, PQ January 11, 2011

mazel tov! a hearty mazel tov to mother and daughter! thank you for articulating so well what we experience as 'growing up' mothers and daughters, travelling together on the road of self-actualization..... we just celebrated (on chof daled teves, no less!) the bas mitzvah of our precious daughter, aidle. may nava and aidle and all the miriams of our generation lead us out of our current galus now! Reply

Helen Fox London, England January 11, 2011

Nava's Bat Mitzvah Mazal tov may you have a wonderful day and enjoy seeing your daughter as a grown up, i can just remember my eldest daughter's bat mitzvah and how proud she made us in synagogue i can tell you she is a wonderful parent and now a wonderful grandmother.My lesson in life is you get out what you put in.
always Naches and lots of love Reply

chana givat zeev January 10, 2011

mazal tov and thanks for a wonderful e-magazine. I look forward to seeing how Nava will impact HER world Reply

Esther Waldman Brooklyn, NY January 9, 2011

Thank You This writing got me thinking. If Miriam can, maybe I can too...... Reply

Zohar Sasson January 9, 2011

Mazal Tov! A hearty mazal tov to the proud mother /parents - you've reached an important and emotional milestone. Much success in your child-rearing-good health and abundant livelihood for you and yours.
May we all continue to grow, while retaining the sincere simplicity of children. And may we finally greet our redeemer with joy-tambourines- and gladness of heart! Reply

Elana Mizrahi January 9, 2011

MAZEL TOV! You should only have naches (pride) and simcha (joy).

Elana Reply

Nechama January 9, 2011

JGR wishes you Mazal Tov!! What a beautiful and heartfelt piece. May you always continue to grow together with your beautiful daughter and may all your dreams become reality!
Mazal Tov - I was thinking of you tonight as I led a Bat Mitzvah Club on the theme of Growing up & that like trees that never stop growing, we will never stop growing! Reply

Edith Brown Silver Spring, MD January 9, 2011

Mazal Tov I remember when I met Nava. She was so quiet, so sweet, so soft spoken and knew exactly who she was.

Sara Esther I have no doubt you are a wonderful parent. I think the best part of adulthood is knowing its okay to still be a kid at heart and enjoy the best of both worlds. Children need to know its okay to be an adult and still act silly and do fun stuff.

I have learned some of the most important lessons of life come from your mother. And like I said I have no doubt the day will come when Nava will tell you just how much she has appreciated all you did for her. Reply

Jennifer Mission Viejo, CA January 9, 2011

Grown-up? I have been saying for many years now, that I am waiting for my "How to be an Adult" handbook to arrive in the mail. Now, as the mom of three preschoolers, I still await its arrival, along with the sequel, "How to be a Parent"!! :-) Mazel Tov!! Reply

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