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Celebrating B'not Mitzvah online

03/31/2020 11:04:09 AM



From the Mandelbaum Family:
As Zoey's Bat Mitzvah was getting closer and plans started to solidify, our biggest concern was that it was scheduled for the first Saturday of spring break and that many of her friends would be out of town.  Little did we realize that this was quickly going to become a non issue! Fast forward to when we were just starting to hear about the virus and our concerns switched to many out of town guests not being able to travel but with the flip side of that coin being that many of her friends who were planning on going away for spring break were now stuck in Colorado and would be able to come. Of course, that quickly changed to having to indefinitely postpone the party (as at that point any gatherings of over 50 people were not allowed) and having a small audience of just local friends and family. Before we were even able to wrap our heads around that, plans changed yet again to still having the Bat Mitzvah in the synagogue but with NO guests as now no gatherings of 10 or more people were allowed.  On the Thursday morning prior to the big day when (in normal times) we would have been rehearsing in the sanctuary, we were on a Zoom conference with Amelia and her family, Rabbi Greene and Holli at which point Rabbi Greene so kindly broke the bad news that if we wanted to still move forward, that now it all had to be via Zoom from all of our homes. Honestly, things changed SO quickly that we really barely had time to wrap our heads around everything. All we knew was that we wanted Zoey to go through with the Bat Mitzvah on the date it was scheduled however we could make that happen. Zoey had worked SO hard to get to where she was, the last thing any of us wanted was for her to have to wait any longer and have it hanging over her head especially since we knew that if we even were thinking of entertaining postponing, we had no idea when that would be. 

When I asked Zoey just earlier today what her thoughts were about everything, in typical teenage fashion she had very little to say except that all she knew was that she wanted to do it on the day no matter what.  She didn't care that she wasn't in the sanctuary. She didn't care that there wouldn't be a room full of people (in fact, she probably really liked the fact that she was NOT in a room full of people!) and she was mildly disappointed about her party being postponed indefinitely but she's a smart young woman and knew we had no choice. 

What we didn't expect was how special and sacred the ceremony would feel.  This was new territory for all of us and the willingness and desire of everyone involved to make it as great as it could be really shone through. One of the biggest silver linings was that this gave EVERYONE who wanted to see it the opportunity to do so.  There were many people who weren't able to come long before the virus and they were so grateful for the opportunity to share in this special moment. There was something really beautiful for us doing it in our home. It made everything feel more intimate and we can look at our fireplace and mantle every day and know that it was where this wonderful rite of passage occured. We especially loved that our friends and family were able to send us messages in real time through Zoom and many of our friends made "Mazel Tov" signs for Zoey that she could see. These are all really wonderful, unique and surprisingly interactive moments that would've never happened in the traditional setting. And I'm not gonna lie, the fact that Zoey and I were able to do it all barefoot was a nice little added bonus :)

I heard from many friends and family afterwards that this was JUST what they needed in these scary uncertain times. Many people felt a sense of reassurance that major life events are still happening.  Our lives aren't on hold just because we can't go about our normal business. One friend in particular used the phrase "life affirming" and another dear friend who is going through a major life crisis found it especially comforting and now wants to connect to some of the virtual services that Har Hashem will be conducting during the shelter-in-place order.

I encourage all families with upcoming possible Zoom B’nai Mitzvot to embrace the unknown, not to instinctively jump to postponing and consider all of the surprisingly positive aspects of a virtual Bar/Bat Mitzvah. 

From the Protas Family:
In the days leading up to our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, plans for both the service and celebration changed seemingly by the day. In the span of about ten days, we rapidly went from joking about how to minimize hand-to-hand contact during the Hora to canceling the post-service celebration. Despite all the changes forced by the Covid-19 pandemic, our daughter and her partner in the B’not Mitzvah were clear that they wanted to keep the date as planned, with a small service at the synagogue limited to immediate family members only, and a plan to live stream the service. Two days before the B’not Mitzvah, though, even that plan changed. With increased restrictions on group size and growing concerns about the spread of the virus, we decided as a group that we would shift the entire service online, with everyone, including Rabbi Greene and Holli, broadcasting from our own homes. In making the final decision to move forward, we reflected on the history of the Jewish people persevering through prayer and religious traditions in the face of adversity.

Despite our initial hesitation about doing a B’not Mitzvah by Zoom, the service was an incredibly positive experience for our family, and a beautiful and memorable service for those who joined us. One hidden blessing is that we were able to open up the invitation and include friends and family who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been able to join us in person. The technology cooperated (thankfully) and the service went smoothly. Rabbi Greene and Holli seamlessly guided the service, and the girls both did an amazing job leading the congregation in prayer. Both girls recited their Torah and Haftarah portions and delivered their d’var Torahs virtually. We were even able to maintain some of the honors online, including the Tallit presentations and having family and friends chant Torah.

Perhaps most impactful for all of us was how effectively the service seemed to build community, even if from a distance. Although we could only interact with friends, family, and other congregants via a computer screen, it was special to see so many others participating in the service from their own homes. Rabbi Greene provided an important distinction between ‘social distancing’ and ‘physical distancing,’ reminding us that even while we need to physically distance ourselves from others to protect our community, during challenging times like this it is even more important to maintain and grow our social connections with others. Following the service, we heard from numerous family and friends who commented about how much they appreciated the service and the opportunity to gather with others, near and far, to celebrate together. 

Sun, July 21 2024 15 Tammuz 5784