Rabbi’s Reflection: Leading a Virtual B’not Mitzvah

They did not teach us about Zoom in rabbinical school. Judaism is an in-person tradition. We shake hands, hug, kiss, and cluster probably a bit too closely at onegs after services. You need a minyan– at least 10 people physically present together in the same space for most prayer services. Judaism is not something you believe in- it is something you are a part of. But in this time of physical distancing, it is hard to feel a part of anything.

So what should we do about bar and bat mitzvahs? Many of our Spring 2020 b’nei mitzvah families have changed the dates of their services, and each have their own very thoughtful reasons. For our WHC members Shary and Colleen, and their children Addye and Sayde, however, the b’not mitzvah was less than two weeks away. They went back and forth about changing the date, as any of us would. How could they have a b’not mitzvah just the four of them in their living room? How could they do it without their family who was going to fly in from across North America, or give their friends a hug, or throw a party? But as Shary said, how could they move the service only ten days away? If it were a month, even three weeks, of course, but ten days?

We decided to keep the date, and so we conducted the first Zoom b’not mitzvah in WHC history. Everyone still dressed up. We still rose and were seated together. People still were distracted by their cell phones. While we had to forgo obvious things like passing the Torah and handing the girls certificates at the end, the service felt like a b’not mitzvah service. It was the same, but via Zoom, so completely different at the same time. And the service was one of the most powerful moments of my rabbinate.

I want to share two reflections on this Zoom b’not mitzvah. The first- we are a part of an eternal story. Shary’s father, Simon z’l, was a Holocaust survivor, and this past Shabbat, the granddaughters of a Holocaust survivor were celebrating their b’not mitzvah in the midst of a historic pandemic.

Al tira– fear not, Addye and Sayde sang from the prophet Isaiah as they chanted their haftarah portion that morning. Even when we face destruction, disease, even death itself, the Jewish light continues to shine. Al tira- fear not, Isaiah says, because our story is not over. Even with a darkened path ahead, there is always a way.

The second- never underestimate prayer. Prayer, wrote Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, invites God’s presence to suffuse our spirits; God’s will to prevail in our lives. Prayer might not bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city. But prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, rebuild a weakened will.” Prayer will not end the coronavirus. For that, we have brave doctors and nurses, physical distancing, shelter in place orders, and a lot of soap. But in a time when we are physically separated from each other, prayer brought our congregation together again. If we take a moment to think about it, Jews from around the world were praying together in that moment too. We are a people of space, and it is hard to imagine Judaism without sharing physical closeness, but we are also a people that shares time. And when we spend time praying, prayer has the power to bring us together once again.

I want to thank Shary, Colleen, and especially Sayde and Addye, for bringing us together again. You began your lives as Jewish adults making sure our light, even in times like these, continues to shine.

Please click here to see a Facebook video from Rabbi Miller that accompanied this blog post.