Kate Braestrup's "Beginner's Grace"
Happy Tu b'Av!

A gift of Shabbat morning joy

This past Shabbat we celebrated the bat mitzvah of a young lady in my congregation. Bat mitzvah -- you probably know this; apologies if I am over-explaining! -- means "daughter of the commandments." When a young person reaches this milestone, she is considered a Jewish adult, able to count toward a minyan (the quorum of ten required for saying many of our central prayers), bound by the joyful obligation to live her life ethically, spiritually, Jewishly.

(I haven't posted much about b'nei mitzvah over the years, though I did write a bit about the process of teaching one of my nieces through her process of becoming bat mitzvah -- that was a few years ago, though; that niece is now looking at colleges!)

Anyway, this past Shabbat, after the service we blessed wine and bread together and then spent some time engaged in the time-honored Jewish pastime known as "schmoozing." (In other words: we snacked and we chatted.) The celebration after services is known in some circles as an oneg. The word means joy, and hints at the joy or pleasure we hope God takes in us. Anyway: at this oneg, I got a surprising dose of joy.

One of the guests at the bat mitzvah approached me at the oneg and thanked me for the service. And then she told me that she'd been to many b'nei mitzvahs before, but had never understood what was going on and had never been able to access the liturgy -- until this Shabbat.

I don't know if she knew it, but that guest gave me a profound gift. One of the challenges of leading worship at a lifecycle event -- especially when one is accustomed to leading a smalltown congregation comprised of familiar faces! -- is that I don't know all the people in the room, and it can be hard to tell whether or not I've connected with them or connected them with the liturgy or with God. And when many of the people in the room may not know the flow of how our service works, or the melodies we use, it's easy for the service leader to wonder whether the service is reaching people where they are.

I don't know the name of the woman who told me that I had opened up the Shabbat morning experience to her, but I'm grateful for her taking a moment to say what she said. And I'm humbled and honored to know that I was able to make the bat mitzvah celebration, and the celebration of Shabbat, open to her. Thank you, mystery lady! Come back anytime.