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My Daughter’s First Mitzvah As a Bat Mitzvah

My Daughter’s First Mitzvah As a Bat Mitzvah

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The author with her daughter
The author with her daughter

A Bat Mitzvah Letter

Dear Miriam Ahuva,

You were born at sunrise in the holy city of Jerusalem. I remember staring at your pure, perfectly formed face in the golden-blue light of dawn, and feeling my heart overflow with gratitude. You were born ten and a half months after your sister, and many people asked me if it was hard having two children so close in age. But G‑d knows each of our limits, and He gave us you. You slept through the night at three weeks old. By four months, you were crawling. We used to call you Little Commando, or sometimes Mighty Mouse.

Sometimes I thought of you as Miriam the ProphetessFrom the day we brought you home, you and your older sister have been the best of friends. From the baby chatter in your shared bedroom in Jerusalem to the late-night chatting in the kitchen today, your birth has been a blessing from the very beginning. It was the easiest “spacing” I ever had between children. There was no jealousy, no toddler adjustment. When your sister went to preschool for the first time, you grabbed the diaper bag, slipped it on your shoulders and begged to go with her. As you grew each year, so did the strength of your light and your beauty.

Before you even knew I was pregnant with one of your brothers, you told me that you were praying for a new baby, and that you wanted it to be a boy. Sometimes I thought of you as Miriam the Prophetess. We used to read a story at bedtime about her: how she spoke up when she saw her parents give up hope of continuing to have children, how she stood up to Pharaoh to save Jewish babies. There was a line that went: “Even though Miriam was only six years old and Pharaoh was so powerful, she knew she had to speak up.” You have that strength within you too, Miriam. You have that sense of justice that will help you continue to light up the world. And you have still that powerful faith in our Creator, and the conviction that He hears all of your prayers.

Your name is also precious to me because you were named after my great-grandmother Mary, with whom I was very close until I was almost bat mitzvah. Your great-great-grandmother was born and raised on the Lower East Side. She was known for the brightness of her smile; she brought sunshine wherever she went. She was known, too, for that strength that I see in you; the strength that kept her kindling her Sabbath lights in a time when everyone was trying to extinguish them.

Grandma Mary kept a picture of the Western Wall beside her Shabbat candles. She went to Israel once, and could never again stop talking about the sacred beauty of the Land. How proud she would have been to see her great-great-granddaughter born in Jerusalem and absorbing the holiness of a Jewish education there.

I wanted to beg time to stand stillWhen we moved back to America right before your bat mitzvah, I wondered how I could take the sacred light of Jerusalem with us. I thought about the class trip we had taken to the Western Wall a few months before, mothers and daughters and teachers. On a cold Friday morning, we all boarded the bus together and made our way through the winding, ancient streets. I remember watching you pray beside the Wall with your friends. It seems like yesterday when you were all starting kindergarten together, but there you were, almost bat mitzvah. I wondered where all the years had gone, all those long afternoons we had thought would go on forever. I wanted to beg time to stand still. Just for a moment, I thought. I remember praying that you wouldn’t forget the holy stones of the Wall, and the closeness we felt that day: to our Creator, to each other. It was such a special way to prepare for Shabbat. I could feel our prayers follow us into the kitchen and weave their way through our home. Thinking about that Friday, I knew what to do on the morning of your bat mitzvah in a land far from the city of your birth, where everything still seemed so strange.

We woke before dawn and peered out the kitchen windows. A flock of birds fluttered in the early morning light and chirped a soft, lilting song. We prepared the dough for the challah. It was the first time you would be able to say the blessing “Lehafrish Challah” on your own. We sifted and kneaded amid the smell of bubbling yeast and the powdery layer of flour blanketing the countertop.

I prayed for you. I prayed that you should continue to channel all of your amazing inner strength in the right ways. That you should always carry Jerusalem in your heart. That your smile should continue to light up the world. That you should find your place in our new community. That you should hold onto that pure faith that our Creator is listening to all of your prayers and dreams. Every mother has many dreams for each of her children, but right then my deepest desire was that you would find your purpose in this world, and that when you found it, you’d never let it go. When you said the words of the blessing, I was so proud of you. The first thing you did as an “adult” Jewish woman was a mitzvah. Your strength and beauty and faith shone through your voice as the morning sun poured suddenly into the kitchen, enveloping us in its light.

My deepest desire was that you would find your purpose in this worldThe challahs came out of the oven and filled our new, unfamiliar house with the smell of home. They smelled like Jerusalem. Like Shabbat. Like a taste of what it is like to find and know and fulfill your purpose. Like wholeness itself.

And so I bless you, Miriam, that your life should be filled with that heavenly aroma. That you should always feel sheltered by the walls of Jerusalem that we carry within us. That you should always have the scent of Shabbat in your heart and in your home. That you should always know what a treasure you are—for me, for your father, for your grandparents and siblings and friends. But most of all, you should know that you are a treasure for the Jewish people. May you find your voice, and go from strength to strength.

I love you.

Love always,
Ima

Sara Debbie Gutfreund lives with her husband and children in Waterbury, Connecticut. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Masters in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas.
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Sara Debbie November 7, 2012

Miriam's name Mary was my great grandmother's English name but Miriam was her Hebrew name so that is how my daughter is named after her Reply

Sara Debbie November 7, 2012

Title of the book I believe the book title was "A Little Girl Named Miriam" by Dina Rosenfeld Reply

Lynn November 7, 2012

Book Title and Author? What a beautiful article! Thank you for writing it! May I please ask what is the name of the book that you used with your daughter? The one where you say there is a line that went: “Even though Miriam was only six years old and Pharaoh was so powerful, she knew she had to speak up.” I would like to order one! Any help would be appreciated! Todah Rabah! Reply

Anonymous November 7, 2012

Thank you! Very nice article, thank you! But I'm curious how Miriam is named after someone named Mary. I know sometimes people in previous generations had a Jewish name and a non-Jewish name, but if she went by Mary, wouldn't that be her actual name? Reply

Hadassah North Miami Beach November 6, 2012

So beautiful. Mazal tov! may you continue to have nachas (joy) from this daughter and your entire family. Reply

Malka Forshner November 4, 2012

did I write a Bat Mitzvah letter? Debbie, what a beautiful letter! My daughter is 27, and I have a very vague memory of writing something in a similiar vein when she turned 12.....or was it just a dream? I guess I could just ask her!
In any case, may Hashem bless your daughter with everything she needs to fulfill your blessings to her--- and may you be blessed to experience them being fulfilled in a revealed and graceful way!
And may you always experience revealed nachas from her and all of your children..and may Hashem get the joy He needs from us to take us out of this exile, immediately! Reply

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