I remember standing at our daughter’s baby-naming ceremony 13 years ago and simply dreaming.
I dreamt about her first day of school, her first day of summer camp, her bat mitzvah, her wedding day and any number of life-cycle events that we would be blessed to share as a family.
I think it’s only natural for parents to do this kind of dreaming, especially those of the Jewish variety.
But never in my wildest dreams could I ever have imagined the bat mitzvah that we experienced this past Shabbat.
As a rabbi of a local synagogue, I envisioned that Kayla’s celebration would be a public happening in a packed sanctuary, where she would be surrounded by adoring friends, family members and a congregation all beaming with pride at her accomplishments.
I have never been so mistaken.
The global pandemic has forced many to either miss important events, postpone them or reimagine how we experience them, considering the current prohibitions against large gatherings.
Six weeks ago, when it became clear to my family that Kayla’s bat mitzvah would not be what we had originally planned, we all mourned — especially Kayla — the loss of what would have been. Truth be told, the entire world is experiencing a particular level of grief right now that makes us all uncomfortable, anxious and sad.
In their famous book “On Grief and Grieving” (Scribner), Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler delineated the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Recently, Kessler added a sixth stage to this process: finding meaning.
It was with that in mind that we waded through our grief and sadness about what would not be and turned our attention to what could be. I must give my wife, Elissa, and daughter all the credit. Like true warriors, they were absolutely determined to make this “Zoom Mitzvah” just as special as it would have been had there been no pandemic.
My wife created a series of surprises, including more than 100 video testimonials and a drive-by congratulations from over 30 of Kayla’s Krieger Schechter Day School classmates.
Our neighbors came together, under the direction of KSDS Head of School Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, to engage in the first recorded neighborhood hora. Our closest friends created a meaningful women’s circle, and on Saturday night we danced the night away at a Zoom disco party, complete with my son, Sam, and I lifting Kayla up on a chair. (Well, he did most of the work.)
Meals, cupcakes, cookies and more food than four people could ever possibly eat arrived at our doorstep, and despite social distancing we were able to recreate the important Jewish custom of having entirely too much food.
Ultimately, it was Kayla who shined light upon what could have been a dark period. She worked tirelessly with her 14-year-old bat mitzvah tutor, Ayala, and our wonderful Cantor Joel Lichterman.
Kayla led the entire morning service, read her Torah portion and Haftarah, and wowed us with her grace and poise, which gave us direction in what could have been a rudderless moment.
We were all a little concerned that we would not feel the “virtual love” in our living room the way we might have in the synagogue.
We were wrong.
Whether seeing our friends or family on Zoom or receiving hundreds of emails and good wishes from our beloved Chizuk Amuno family, the love was definitely felt. Our community supported us every step of the way, and we are so happy that we now call Baltimore our home.
This was not the bat mitzvah any of us ever imagined. It was not the bat mitzvah any of us would have ever chosen. But it was our bat mitzvah. It was Kayla’s bat mitzvah.
I must tell you that it was better than all of our dreams that began 13 years ago when we named her Kayla Liat bat Ha-Rav Yehoshua Zvi V’ Chava Glicka.
Dreams do come true, not necessarily in the way we imagine, but often better!
Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg is the senior spiritual leader of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville.
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