My niece and me, rehearsing on Friday afternoon.
This past weekend was my first bat mitzvah -- which is to say, the first bat mitzvah for which I served as rabbi. (Something of a coming-of-age experience for me, as well as for the bat mitzvah girl.) It was amazing.
About 140 of us gathered at the Maliotis Cultural Center for mincha, maariv, and havdalah on Saturday evening. As people filed in, Elise was playing guitar to set the mood; in the wings, Emma and I recited the bracha for donning tallit together. (She wore my grandfather's tallit; I wore the glorious blue watercolor tallit that she and my sister gave me for this occasion.) We took a deep breath and walked out onto the bimah, and then the service began!
In all honesty, it's kind of a blur to me. I remember smiling at everyone a lot, and singing with all my heart, and feeling rooted and awake and alive. I remember saying something about the community we were forming -- a once-in-a-lifetime gathering, since this group of people had never before come together to worship and celebrate in quite this way.
I remember my niece leading all of her portions of the service flawlessly (especially Uva Letzion, using the melody which is unique to Shabbat mincha. Mad props to Minna, who tutored her in leyning and chanting.) I remember the Torah reading -- my niece chanted beautifully, and for the first time I managed to chant the English translation (bilingual leyning!) I remember hearing my niece's d'var Torah and being wowed, again, by her insights and her poise and her ineffable uniqueness.
The whole service flowed. We were in the groove, the music worked, people sang, my niece sparkled. It went as well as I possibly could have imagined. Then, of course, there was a great party. Terrific food. Joyful dancing. Amazing music by Basya Schechter and Pharaoh's Daughter.
Afterwards, several people told me the service was moving, that it made them cry, that it was accessible to them in ways that Judaism had never been before, that they had never imagined that Judaism could feel like this, that it had been the perfect blend of tradition and innovation. I was on a cloud for the remainder of the evening. Those comments echo the way I felt after my first visit to Elat Chayyim -- and since my response to that first experience of Renewal davenen was to think, "I want to be a rabbi like that! I want to give other people the experience I'm having now!" I feel like I'm finally paying that forward.
I'm planning to post a .pdf of the siddur we created for this event; I think it's a useful resource. (So stay tuned -- that post should go live soon.) Meanwhile, I'm home again now -- slowly coming down off the high of seeing my niece do such an amazing job, and the high of creating a worship experience that I think really opened people's eyes to the joy I find in Judaism.
I feel so lucky to have been able to do this for and with my niece, and my sister, and our family.