This month, I will celebrate my bat mitzvah anniversary. No, I wasn’t called to the Torah in June 50 plus years ago as is traditional in our faith, but, rather, many years past the day when a 12-year-old girl would typically become an adult member of our community. Adolescent girls growing up in relatively traditional households in Brooklyn were not called to the Torah--and I was one of those.
In 1997, as my eldest daughter was preparing to lead our congregation in prayer as a bat mitzvah, having been bought up in a Conservative synagogue instead of the Modern Orthodox shul of my youth, she invited me to join her on the bima and to share in the honor of becoming a bat mitzvah—albeit a few years late. It was a day I’ll never forget!
Is it ever really too late? John Glenn went back up into space at 77 years of age, Rita Evans learned to swim at 75 and our matriarch, Sarah Imanu, had a baby at 90! I read from the Torah for the first time just over 20 years ago and haven’t stopped studying since!
In Judaism, when a young man turns 13 or a young woman turns 12, we become adult members of the Tribe, replete with myriad privileges and responsibilities. It’s automatic. But, when that young person ascends the bima and reads his or her Torah portion, there is an implicit, if not explicit, acceptance of these obligations. In the process of completing a “mitzvah project,” the bar or bat mitzvah is putting his or her words into practice and finding ways to dedicate his or her learning to making our world a better place for all of us.
When is the last time we thought about dedication--to a cause greater than ourselves? There have always been so many people, places and needs to serve and the opportunities to give, nurture and uplift have, unfortunately, grown exponentially of late. A box of cookies sent anonymously, a meal for someone who can’t get out, a trip to the pharmacy, a check to a food bank, a five-minute phone call can each make a difference beyond our grasp.
One definition of dedication is “being committed to a purpose.” Many of us have wanted to serve in new and expanded ways over time, but life increasingly got in the way. At this juncture, so many of us have more time on our hands than ever before. What a perfect time to think about how we might dedicate our energies toward the greater good. As our Sage, Rabbi Hillel, asked, “If not now, when? If not me, who?”