The Mitzvahs

I swear in a past life, I must have been Jewish. Although I am not looking for a religious conversion, I do have a particular fondness for the culture and religion. I find myself soaking up knowledge at every turn, whether at work from my patients or from dear friends like Esti of Primetime Parenting, Mushky, Nancy of The Mama Maven, Ellie and Beth of  Chicagonista.

At work, I pride myself in being culturally sensitive to my orthodox patients. I remember when it’s Shabbat (my favorite Jewish tradition), looking up when sundown is. I make sure my families have their candles and know where the Bikur Cholim room is. I also (try to) make sure the automatic lights are deactivated in their room and that while I pull the curtain, that my door is open if they need to call out to me. If a family is in the throws of the labor process, I help mom maintain her modesty, making sure she is covered and that her husband or any other male visitors are looking away if necessary. If I’m lucky to be a part of the birth, I am careful, when placing the baby ID on the father, not to actually touch him. I also make sure to be available to transfer the baby from mother to father and back as they can not physically touch one another. I know that if it’s a male, I don’t have to ask if he will be circumcised, as I know he’ll have a bris outside of the hospital. I love the small touches I can do to make their experience as beautiful as it can be.

Most recently my daughter and I were honored with an invitation to my friend’s daughter’s Bas Mitzvah. While not completely unfamiliar with this celebration, this was our first invitation to such an event and I was so excited. As educated by my friend Carrie, Bas Mitzvah is the same as a Bat Mitzvah, with certain divisions or groups of orthodox jews believing that the “t” is really an “s” in Hebrew enunciation. While I was under the impression this was the name of the celebration, I learned it actually is a role they assume. When a girl becomes 12 (orthodox or conservative) or 13 (reformed), they become responsible for their own actions and become a Bas or Bat Mitzvah.  Miara was 12.

A boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah when he becomes 13 years old.

While I wasn’t expecting an invitation extension for my sons, at one point I struggled to find childcare for my little one. Never one to bring an uninvited guest unless stuck in a rock and a hard place, I was glad it all worked out in the end. A complete oversight, I learned that these celebrations were gendered separated, meaning we’d probably (sadly) never get invited to a Bar Mitzvah!

Honored and thrilled to be attending the celebration of Miara’s Bas Mitzvah, I wanted to make sure I maintained the respect and cultural sensitivity of this significant milestone. A no brainer for us, was to maintain modesty. I made sure that both Ava and I chose dresses that appropriately kept our elbows and knees covered with my makeup minimal. Ava had a beautiful dress gifted to her from my aunt, all the way from Paris. It was perfect in its faux sleeved shirt within a modest neck dress. Paired with opaque leggings and her school flats, she was comfortable and appropriately dressed. I wore my simple but stylish Marimekko long sleeve dress paired with opaque tights and knee high boots.

Although I have never gone to a synagogue ceremony celebrating this milestone, I had heard of friend’s children (as I later realized, sons in particular) practicing their reading of the Torah for when they receive their first aliyah. I learned that as Miara was a more conservative orthodox, she did not have a ceremony and that traditions vary with different groups and sectors of Judaism. It’s best to ask in advance if such a ceremony takes place. If so, as an invited attending guest, you should ensure you are prompt in attendance for this momentous event.

Miara did give a heartfelt speech thanking her family and friends. She was also presented with a beautiful memory candle from her friends.

This was a celebration after all and there was LOTS of games and dancing! Ava and I enjoyed hearing Hebrew versions of many favorite hits like Gangnam Style and playing fun party games.

Just as I am always touched when a non-Chinese friend gifts my children with a “red envelope”, I wanted to make sure our gift was appropriate for the occasion. I was so glad I surveyed my orthodox friends. Gift suggestions ranged from small pieces of jewelry to educational gifts or money.

I looked into all the options but I was amused to learn that numbers also have significance in the Jewish culture like it does in Chinese. I learned that giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving life or “chai”. We opted to give a check (in a multiple of $18 of course), in a red envelope which was a perfect blend of both cultures.

Mazel Tov Miara Sarah!

What else did I miss? Any other tips for future Bas Mitzvahs?