A mother’s rite of passage--planning a bat mitzvah
Sydney Stoller gets a helping hand—or two—during the hora at her bat mitzvah celebration.
Photos by Sally Green
And just like that, it was over: More than two years of planning, countless days of studying, an almost three-hour service, and a solid four-and-a-half-hour party (not to mention the 24 hours I was in labor). My daughter, Syd, was officially a bat mitzvah. There was no more meaningful day in my life (sorry honey, your proposal stands as a very close second). I had approached this milestone with a sense of wonder. How could my child be 13, if I’m still only 22? As the big day drew closer, this wistfulness gave way to crushing anxiety. Luckily my daughter was well-prepared to run the service and knew all of her Hebrew, but, oy vey, the details.
I had vowed not make myself crazy. I pride myself on being a level-headed person, one not easily rattled by situations that we of the 10506 often mistake for dire. Of course any sentence containing both “Trump” and “front-runner” could do me in. But this was just a day. Planning one day. I could do it. Couldn’t I?
My first job after college was at Nickelodeon. As assistant to an executive producer, I was perched in a bright orange cubicle where I took phone messages, made travel plans, and FedExed tapes (yes, VHS). Sure, I got a purple Nick at Nite bathrobe as a holiday bonus, but whatever portion of my frontal lobe dedicated to organizational skills has always been, well, lacking. Every time my boss peeked around the corner with a “Do you have my …?” or “Have you seen the …?,” my body would go cold. Twenty years later, I haven’t made much progress. My house is often without a single paper product. And I lost my ATM card. Again. Yesterday.
As someone who hasn’t been able to find the keys to her safety deposit box since 1999, I obviously knew I needed help. But lately, the emphasis of a bar or bat mitzvah seems to have drifted from “What’s your Torah portion?” to “What’s your logo?” At the core, it is a moving spiritual rite of passage for any Jewish child. Did I want to mark it surrounded by scantily clad dancers? It still had to feel like us. And when I looked for help, I didn’t have to go far.
Local party planner Susie Mordoh helped me dot i’s and cross t’s, as well as remember everything I didn’t know I needed to remember. And what she didn’t take care of, Leslie Lampert of Love on the Run Catering did. I sat through a lesson with Katonah’s Shira Aaron, a freelance make-up artist. If only I had realized she did just the left side of my face before I went grocery shopping. Thanks to Liz Templeton, an old college friend who owns All About the Dress in Armonk, my girls and I were outfitted with care. Promo Queens in Pound Ridge handled the favors and worked tirelessly to find a navy baseball hat my husband couldn’t deem “too high.” Photographer and Pound Ridge mom Sally Green had just as much fun as we did. And those dancers? They were perfectly appropriate.
At times, it truly felt like being in the eye of the hurricane. Like when I was told my uncle needed a meal without any salt (um, ok). Or when I saw the cost. Of anything. But watching my daughter chant so beautifully, then experience the sheer joy (and terror) of being lifted in the chair during the hora, I would do it all over again. Actually, I get to. My daughter Zoe’s bat mitzvah is in 2018.
Chai Times -- As a guest at a bar or bat mitzvah, there can be a few unknowns. Here are some helpful hints:
For girls, a piece of jewelry is always a lovely gift. Or a picture frame. Or candlesticks. For boys, it’s tougher. Luckily, money works. A check is a more than appropriate gift. Traditionally, it is considered lucky to give in multiples of the number 18, called chai, the Hebrew word for “life.” The numerical values associated with the letters in the word chai add up to 18. Giving chai is thoughtful, but in no way mandatory.
Yes, you should attend the service. Even if? Yes. But, what if I? Yes. Moving on.
At most synagogues, it’s respectful for men and boys to wear a yarmulke (skullcap, kippah, etc) in the sanctuary. They are usually provided as you enter. For women and girls, bare shoulders should be covered. Tank dresses are ok. Strapless, not so much.
Even though the occasion is obviously a happy one, it is also one with deep symbolic and religious meaning. No clapping and no cell phones, please!