We arrived and got the word from my sister-in-law that we had a reading to do.
This. was. news. to. me.
Now I'm not shy about public speaking. Despite having avoided it for much of my earlier years, at some point something clicked in my brain, and now I couldn't care less. However, most of my speaking is in business environments where I know my topic, my environment, and my audience. A temple where people talk about...you know...God and stuff, is NOT my comfort zone. But I love my niece and decided to go with the flow.
The flow, however, did not include rehearsal, a program, or any other guidelines except a little crib sheet of what we were to say (English responses or translations of Hebrew phrases) and that we should listen for a part of the service where a specific phrase was said.
Been to a Bat Mitzvah lately? There is a book. You start on page 121 or some such and it goes for 2 hours.
TWO. WHOLE. HOURS.
Are we in the first 30 minutes, I wondered? the second? the end? No one could seem to answer me. The result was hubby and I were two of the most avid listeners in the joint that day... waiting with bated breath for the phrase to arise. We thought we had a general idea about it, but they occasionally skipped sections, or something that looked like a reading became a chant with repeating verse, etc. We were a little lost.
Finally the phrase was spoken and we dutifully rose, as if on a well-rehearsed cue, and made our way to the altar (is it an altar in temple?) See this picture below? This picture was taken on Thursday BEFORE the event. I can assure you that the Rabbi was not in attendance or I would not be touching the Torah....not a Shiksa like me!
I had reviwed the reading in advance with hubby and split the sections so that I minimized my "God" stuff. I tried to stick with phrases about spirit, humanity, community, etc. I don't think they would have liked me to go off script and say something about organized religion being the death of humanity and morality in the world.
Luckily, despite my non-believer status, the roof did not crash down upon us.
Thinking back upon my 13-year old self, I cannot imagine a greater torture than having to learn to read another language and then to conduct a service for two hours in front of family, friends, and relative strangers (or strange relatives) in that language. Yet MK took it all in stride. In fact, she reveled in it. Her Hebrew was nearly flawless and she was praised by all in attendance as having performed one of the most flawless Bat Mitzvah celebrations ever (this to the groans and exclamations of many 30-40 year olds in the audience who felt they were being maligned and discounted in the family memory for their less stellar performances.)
The day stretched before us in an unending observation and celebration of this special day. The reception was a cacophony of noise and sounds heightened by the screaming of 13-year old girls, the awkwardness of 13-year old boys, and the unique opportunity to sit among strangers who somehow are related to you and were grouped at your table by some interesting formula of 10.
If you've ever had the desire to return to your junior high school for one more dance...go to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Most of the same rules apply, except you no longer know the music (who are the Jonas Brothers and why do ALL the girls scream when they are mentioned?) and you need a little alcohol to get you on the dance floor at all.
All in all, the event was a success, and even when less than 24 hours later the proud and tearful parents who had delivered such moving speeches about their wonderful daughter, her strength and independence, her sense of right and wrong, and her grace under pressure dissolved into the typical parental screams of "MK - I don't CARE what you THINK! You will DO AS I SAY!!!", we all still remained friends in the end.
And the dress you say? Well, I went with the blue velvet because the theme of the evening was "BROADWAY", the star of the evening was a knock-out in a strapless gown, and god knows you need a little drama with that.
And to tell you the truth - just look at that darlin' girl...I can put all my religious misgivings, my fashion ineptness, and my musical tastes out of my mind, just to spend a day with that glowing smile.