Conceptually I had always thought that it would be nice if R had an opportunity to lein (chant from the Torah) for her Bat Mitzvah but initially neither me or R really took much initiative to make it happen. When R saw a friend lein last October she got the bug and decided that that she also wanted to lein. We contacted Paula Gantz and Adena Berkowitz who run Women's Tefilla on the Upper West Side and they got the ball rolling. I can't tell you how much time both Paula and Adena put into this Bat Mitzvah and I will be forever grateful to them.
We could have picked anytime to do it but we wanted to do it as close to her 12th birthday as we could. We decided on Feb 4th, Shabbat Shira. That gave us about 3 1/2 months to learn the trope (melody and notes) and as much of the parsha (portion of the Torah) as possible. With the help of our amazing teacher Leora R managed to learn almost half of it. Most kids take about a year to learn the full parsha so R really did a great job in such a short period of time. At the Bat Mitzvah Leora, Paula and one of Adena's daughters P graciously leined the rest of the parsha for us.
In typical me fashion I picked what turned out to be the logistically worst Shabbat possible at our shul. Some one had already rented the ballroom for lunch and there was a choir that day in the sanctuary in honor of Shabbat Shira so we could not do our speeches there. We had to figure out how to make the upstairs work for our service, speeches and kiddish and thanks to Deborah Riker (Rabbi Mark Wildes assistant AND A party planner) we pulled it off.
As those of you who know me know organization is not one of my strengths. Deborah kept me focused and on task. She helped with everything from picking a great caterer who was not obscenely expensive and had delicious fresh food to not letting me order anything else whenever I was overcome with the fear that we would not have enough food! (She was also a huge help with the kids party!).
Since we were doing a Women's Tefilla service only women and close male relatives (J, Z, 2 Uncles and 2 Grandfathers) were invited to come for the service. The rest of the men were invited to the speeches and kiddish. In order for a Woman's Tefilla sevice to be kosher there can be no more than 9 men there. If there was a minyan (10 or more men) you then run into problems halachically (Jewish law wise).
I have always "believed" in Women's Tefilla but I have to admit that this was only my fourth Women's Tefilla service. I felt a little disoriented as the service began (of course it could have also been that I have not been to the beginning of a Shabbat service in almost 16 years!). I had been so focused on the logistics of the day that I was not prepared for how I felt when R began to lein. I was transported. Her voice sounded beautiful. I still can not put words to how significant it was to hear my daughter lein. All I can say was that I felt just like I had when I gave birth to her when she was finished, complete with the adrenaline rush that left me sleepless for the next few days. I still can't stop thinking about what she sounded like.
T , who was very cute, did a great job closing up the service. When we were done we had a short break. J made Kiddish (the blessing over the wine) and we had some cookies and cake before we started the speeches, which we kept brief (there is nothing worse than having to sit through an hour of speeches at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah!). After the speeches we went next door for what turned out to be a beautiful and low key kiddish lunch. Since we had limited time to set up and limited space we put out a bunch of cocktail tables and everyone either found a seat or just milled about eating and talking with friends. I could not have been more pleased with the way that everything turned out.
So many of my friends who came to the Women's Tefilla service have told me how meaningful they thought that the Bat Mitzvah was and I can not agree with them more! I really believe that leining has been an incredible growth experience for R. It is another way for her to connect with G-d and be actively involved in Judaism and her community. I also feel like I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually. It reminded me realize how important Synagogue services are and how they help ground you in G-d, Judaism and your community. I can't think of a more significant way that we could have celebrated her Bat Mitzvah and I am excitedly anticipating T ans D's.