My first Zoom Bat Mitzvah:
Chaya and the Tree of Life!
Was it “beshert”? A yiddish word for: “meant to be/destiny.” The Torah portion for Karen Dworsky’s bat mitzvah – scheduled to be at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota http://Besyn.org– was a double portion- Tazria-Metora, on the first day of a new Hebrew month, Iyar 1. (April 25, 2020). Like most bar and bat mitzvah students, Karen had been preparing for this day since she received her bat mitzvah date, 2 years ago, and, in fact, much further back – since 2nd grade – when Karen starting learning the Hebrew language and prayers. As the date approached, invitations were mailed; a celebration planned; guests had made plane reservations; Karen had prepared with the Cantor and was ready to chant from our sacred scrolls. Was this meant to be? A what? A “zoom” mitzvah? On a screen? What about the party?
When this option was presented, it wasn’t the first choice, by far. This was not the bat mitzvah they had envisioned. There would be no way to be in the sanctuary nor celebrate after, together with friends and family. But, let’s go back to the Torah portion, shall we? This portion, from which Karen was to chant, is in the book of Leviticus, and, as Karen explained, it talks about ritual purity and impurity. What does it mean to be pure? In this part of the Torah, there is a plague! Well, hello! Kind of like a global pandemic? Furthermore, it states that the persons afflicted must dwell alone: quarantine for up to 2 weeks. Sound familiar? Was this meant to be? Perhaps there was added significance of becoming a young Jewish adult at this moment – in this specific time. If there were no zoom mitzvah, Karen’s bat mitzvah would not be taking place now.
Karen and her family decided to go ahead and do this zoom bat mitzvah. It takes courage and faith to plow ahead and try something new, and a complete upheaval of all planning and contracts with vendors. I am here, as witness and one of those vendors – the professional photographer on the job – to report that it was one of THE most uplifting bat mitzvah events I have ever experienced. If you view my screen shots and short video clips, you can see for yourselves. I did not know what to expect. Never having photographed a zoom bat mitzvah. Knowing that these would be web images and video clips from a screen presentation. In fact, I offered to photograph this “event” pro bono. Just because it was the right thing to do and I had no idea what would result from my efforts.
As the pictures demonstrate and what I could feel by watching was complete pride, joy and love. Just as there would be in a synagogue setting. You could see and feel so much JOY and RUACH (great spirit!), from the bat mitzvah sitting next to her brother on one side and her grandfather on the other – to her parents behind her – figuratively and literally. And then, from the 200 + participants, each in their own digital box. I heard it called a digital bat mitzvah, in this day and age, because it wasn’t “virtual,” it actually happened! Only digitally.
How fortunate we are to even have this option! Karen could lead us in the prayers/ the Torah service/ and chant Torah and Haftorah. Which is exactly what she did. And beautifully, I might add. Additionally, all the members of her family participated as they would in the sanctuary, just from their spots at home. And because you could essentially “dial in,” from anywhere, people could attend that might not have been able to be physically present in a “normal” bat mitzvah.
Karen was presented with her tallit, with her gifts, including kiddush cup and bat mitzvah certificate, exactly as would have been done in the synagogue. The rabbi gave a great sermon. Karen’s d’var Torah to the “congregation,” was insightful, clever and full of wonderful, uplifting, hopeful messages and teachings. The parents “speech,” equally insightful. There was even dancing! And candy throwing! 🙂 All the elements were there… just not in the same sacred space.
As photographer on the scene, I was able to capture it all and even provided some short video clips to the family. The family was overjoyed to receive these web images and video. There were a few particularly poignant moments to capture. Karen’s Hebrew name is Chaya and the Tree of Life was a theme with both of the tallitot that were presented. One she had made with her class- and the second- designed by a local artist. Both featured the Tree of Life… as Chaya means Life! I captured both moments. For all eternity.
Another great scene was all the wonderful signs that everyone had made to show and to honor Karen when it was all over. Pictures of family and friends holding signs were so unique and meaningful. One by one, each of the family members made signs that they held up. “Mazel Tov Karen!” “We Love You Karen!” Some in Hebrew; most in beautiful colors. Through my pictures/screen shots/ I was able to capture them all! With the beloved family and friends behind those signs.
During “zoom” time after the ceremony, there was much chatting and many good wishes/ hearty Mazel Tov! messages. It felt good. Very good. I took several pictures of the bat mitzvah and her family just watching, with great JOY, as they were able to “visit” (digitally) with family and friends. Karen had joined the ranks of all bar and bat mitzvah students that went before her, on her way to being a young adult. With all the rights and responsibilities that entails. In this time, in this moment. Just as G-d imagined it would be; how it would feel. A sacred obligation; a sacred right.
I recall at this moment, what my own rabbi always says in the board room to the bar and bat mitzvah students right before the ceremony. He tells them – no matter what happens today up on that bema, you have already become a bar or bat mitzvah. It is the journey. The study to get to this moment. That is what matters. That and what you do tomorrow, and the next day, as you take your place in our community, as a young Jewish adult.
The challenge of a young Jewish adult – becoming bat mitzvah – with all the rites and passages into adulthood, is to face the challenges, brokenness and the pain of this world and commit to repairing it. Tikkun Olam. Or in other words, Repairing our World. As we travel through this time, we look to our youth/ our next generation for guidance.
As Karen told us in her D’var Torah: We are all impure and we must remember to purify ourselves. How do we do that? Karen teaches by changing our thought process. Impurity is what we all struggle with.. we can change our thought process through prayer, mitzvot (good deeds) and reading Torah. We can forgive ourselves when we are impure and seek purity through LOVE. These are the insightful words of the bat mitzvah on this day. Words we all needed to hear. Right now. At this moment.
Karen continues: Remember who you are- Remember that G-d is with you and you are with G-d. Try to live a life that is pleasing to G-d. Follow the will of G-d and ultimately, you will always be pure. Wow. From a 13 year old. Was this zoom bat mitzvah beshert? I’d say so! From generation to generation. L’dor va’dor. Our children will carry us. As we, in this Global Pandemic move forward with digital bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, seeking guidance from and listening to our children, no matter what the format. Their words ring pure and true. And our community is here/there to support you. Always! As we say: L’chaim- To Life! And: Mazel Tov!
Sue Lund is a Professional Photographer serving the Twin Cities Jewish Community for over 25 years. She is a Past President of Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, MN and resides in Lakeville, MN with her husband Eric. Both of their beautiful 🙂 children became bar and bat mitzvah at Mount Zion Temple.