This Saturday night, Nov. 11, Riley Granek will become a bat mitzvah, but she’s doing it in an unconventional way as a tribute to her mother.

Two years ago, Riley’s mom, Jennifer Granek, suffered a traumatic brain injury while on vacation in Costa Rica and remains in a minimally conscious state. She is non-verbal with severe spasticity and has difficulty moving her arms and legs. Granek, 42, receives rehabilitation and theraputic services at the Households at Levindale, her home for the past 20 months.

Riley, 13, wanted to make sure that her mom witnessed this big moment in her life, so the Park School eighth-grader and her family decided to have a small service at the chapel at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. It will take place during Havdalah on Saturday evening.

“I just wanted my mom to be there. I just wanted to do it there, and also it’s small,” said Riley, who lives in Owings Mills and has two siblings. “It’s honestly just easier on me being able to be with her there and not go in front of 200 people.”

Riley’s father, Brian Granek, said about 20 people will attend the ceremony. Family members will read poems and recite different passages.

Riley Granek

Riley Granek poses in front of of her bat mitzvah project painting, which hangs in her room at home and in her mother’s room at Levindale. (Photo courtesy of Brian Granek)

Riley has been working with Ellyn Dannenbaum, a local bat mitzvah tutor/guide, for the past six months and will recite her Torah portion in Hebrew rather than chanting it.

Riley also handpicked her Torah portion, and she chose Chayei Sarah. She said that portion is close to her mother’s Hebrew name, Chaya Sarah.

Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior director of Jewish learning and life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, will be in attendance at the bat mitzvah and will offer a special prayer of healing for Jennifer. The family plans to celebrate Riley’s rite of passage with a dinner that night and a brunch for friends and family the following day, Nov. 12, which was Jennifer’s bat mitzvah date.

“With what’s gone on in our lives, we’re kind of making up a lot of things as we go along,” Brian Granek said. “The traditions and rules and things have been out the window a little bit. This is what works best for our family and our situation, and this is what works best for Riley to be most comfortable. And it allows Jennifer to be there and watch in an intimate setting.”

Riley said she thought of her mother when it came time for planning her bat mitzvah project. Riley enjoys art and created a painting that was put on 300 tumblers – and all of them were sold in about two weeks. That helped raise nearly $5,000, which will be donated to the Brain Injury Association of Maryland. Brian had the picture transferred to canvas, and one hangs in both Riley’s and Jennifer’s rooms.

Riley – who will take a trip to Europe with her family this summer – says she knows her bat mitzvah might look a bit unusual to the casual observer. But she said she and her family do not mind because her mother will be present for their special day.

“I’m going to be able to have her there,” Riley said with a smile.

Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Top photo: Riley Granek in her room at home  (Photo courtesy of Brian Granek)

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