Usually it’s the Bat Mitzvah girl who has to learn a whole host of new things: how to read the trop (cantillation signs), the intricacies of the torah service, and text study of the parsha she’s reading. In our case, though, because of COVID-19, I’ve had to learn a great many new things in order to make this bat mitzvah work.
I’ve learned all about hosting a Zoom meeting: how to mute all participants, how to share a video, settings that give participants the option to unmute, and how to make it so that the same speaker is always fullscreen no matter who’s talking (this is called spotlighting, FYI.)
I’ve learned that there are new ways of calling people up for an aliyah to the Torah that are gender-neutral. One in particular really appeals to me: instead of calling someone “(firstname) son/daughter of (parents’ names)”, we can say “(firstname) mi-beit—which means “from the house of” (parents’ names.) I don’t know why I’m so into it, but I am.
I’ve learned that there’s a local-ish florist who does beautiful work, is reasonably priced, and is a lovely person to work with. I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of freedom (for me) in telling the florist, “This is my budget, this is what the flowers are for, make me something beautiful.”
I’ve learned how much work it takes to get things exactly right. I compiled a booklet that contains the abbreviated Shabbat morning service we’ll be doing; I had to go back and fix it four or five times. The sixth time I noticed an error (there were no page numbers) I said, “Forget it—we’ll number the pages by hand.” From now on I’ll be a lot less critical of people who publish books that contain what I think are obvious typos.
I’ve learned roughly how much my kids remember from their time in Jewish day schools; As I practice to lead most of the service, I sometimes catch them singing along. It’s neat to see that even a few years of daily prayers have given my children quite a lot of familiarity with the liturgy.
I’ve learned that I can totally pull off a bat mitzvah with only about two weeks of planning—except for the kippot, which I ordered five weeks ago and which arrived today. They were too late to be included in most of the packages we delivered to local friends and family, but I suppose K can mail them out with any thank-you notes she has to write, as a souvenir of the occasion.
Most importantly, I’ve learned what is necessary and what is just nice to have. A new dress for me—nice, but not necessary. A Torah scroll—pretty necessary for what we’re doing. Guests—necessary. Food—necessary. A fancy catered meal—nice but not necessary. At least one person with knowledge of Jewish ritual and liturgy—necessary. Four-foot-high letter outlines, filled with small balloons, that spell out the bat mitzvah girl’s name—really not necessary.
Mr. December has always expressed the opinion that our children’s bar and bat mitzvahs should be “less bar, more mitzvah.” Thanks to COVID-19, his wish has been granted.