The Day My Daughter Becomes a Man

Carrie’s Unfinished Tallit

Sometimes so many things get going on, it’s hard to keep track. One big project coming up is my girls’ bnot mitzvah.

For those of you not in the know (which included myself up until recently), that’s “bnot mitzvah,” which is more than one bat mitzvah. So each of my girls is having a bat mitzvah. Both of them together are having two bnot mitzvah. Kind of like “culs-de-sac” or “attorneys general,” which lots of people also tend to get wrong. I thought more than one bat mitzvah would be “bat mitzvahs” or “bat mitzvot”… because the plural of a Hebrew “-ah” word ends in “-ot” (or “-os,” in Ashkenaz), which is why the plural of matzah is matzot (or matzos). But none of that is relevant here, because the plural of bat is bnot, so the plural of bat mitzvah is bnot mitzvah, and that’s that. That’s also enough grammar for today.

What’s more, the two girls are having their bnot mitzvah both on the same day. And that day is coming up awful fast. The convenient app I installed on my smartphone tells me we have 75 days left, and counting. And I haven’t even written my bat-mitzvah speech yet.

Carrie’s Tallis Beads

But we have been working on bat-mitzvah plans. My Firstborn daughter, who loves to sew, is designing and constructing her own tallit. And both girls and I have been studying their Torah readings, which form the centerpiece of the bat mitzvah.

The bar mitzvah is a coming-of-age ritual, a Jewish rite of passage, during which a boy becomes a spiritual man; a girl, a spiritual woman. The work of learning Torah, and of learning to read from Torah (which is way more involved than simply learning to read Hebrew), and of preparing and delivering a drash, these provide a spiritual proving experience. Like the walkabout of the Australian Aborigines, the bar mitzvah is a trial, maybe even a trial of faith.

In modern times, the bar mitzvah is often seen by teenagers as a point of escape, because after you’re a bar mitzvah, you don’t have to go to synagogue anymore, if you don’t want to. After all, you’re in charge of your own spiritual manhood now.

Now, I’m not saying that is or is not the correct path for any given individual. I think it’s important to ask questions, especially spiritual questions; and the harder the questions, the more important it is to ask them.

However, I can’t help but think: If all you’re trying to do is to escape, you very well may find yourself getting lost. You have to be heading toward something that holds promise for you, not away from something you despise. If all you’re doing is running away, you’ll never find what you’re looking for.

I hope that in the brief years we’ve been together—which have flown by far too fast—that my daughters have grasped the value of learning, purpose, and community. And wherever they end up, I hope they’ll both find the stability and fulfillment I’ve found in the spiritual community I associate with.