I wrote the following words more than three years ago; an excerpt from the D’var Torah at my Bat Mitzvah:
In Parashat Tetzaveh the Israelites are given instructions to construct the Tabernacle, or the makeshift worship area. They were commanded to make the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, and to fuel it with the purest olive oil. To show God’s presence, one must try to shed more light unto the world in any way that they can.
For many kids, becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah is something that their parents force them to do, or at least want them to do, and encourage strongly. My case was different. I decided this for myself and fought for it. I first became interested in the process when, at the age of five, I attended my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in California.
These were always very special and meaningful family events, and I decided that it was important for me to go through this rite-of-passage and to share it with my family.
Today is especially significant because of my place in the family. While I have older cousins on the Ozer side (my father’s side of the family), I am, in fact, the oldest girl, and the first to have the opportunity to have a Bat Mitzvah. Moreover, if I understand my history well, I think that I am the first Ozer ever to have a Bat Mitzvah, and that goes all the way back to Russia and Lithuania. I can assure you that I am the first Huang (my mother’s side of the family) to ever stand before the ark on such a day.
I convinced my dad that I wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah and that we should join a synagogue. My dad never had a Bar Mitzvah and my mom, who is Chinese, did not know much about all of this.
Suddenly belonging to a synagogue seemed abrupt to all of us – not to mention Nico and I going to Hebrew school. In order to take all of this on, Nico and I had to bathe in holy water because my mom isn’t Jewish. I also attended junior congregation and completed a Jewish journey project. But the journey was worth it. Now I am standing here as a new person and about to be the first Ozer and Huang girl to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah. Becoming a Bat Mitzvah means that I can participate in special rituals with my family. This year, on Yom Kippur, I fasted for the first time, and I plan on doing this every year. Over the summer, I will be working by my home in Jamestown, RI, to help keep the beaches clean and pure, like the olive oil. While I am sailing over the summer, I am calm, happy, and feel God’s presence with me in the beauty that surrounds me. To be a Bat Mitzvah means that I can, and will, make a difference.
What has changed in the time since I wrote these words? What perspective have I gained as I look at the journey through slightly older eyes?
I have built relationships with so many in this community—people who I hadn’t thought about on the day of my Bat Mitzvah, and who have continued to support me.
I have gathered with my family to celebrate Pesah at my uncle’s house each year. My brother Nico and I are normally the ones who lead the prayers.
I have seen the B’nai Mitzvah in this generation of my family come to an end. My cousin Sam, who had the first Bar Mitzvah I had ever attended when I was five, is now 23. While it is an end of an era, these moments that all of my cousins and I have in common through Judaism will not be forgotten.
But most recently, we all spoke during a memorial service for my grandpa on the Ozer side. We all wore tallit that he had given us as a special gift before our B’nai Mitzvah. I know how proud he would be of us all, as we stood tall, showing a new generation of Ozers choosing Judaism in a world very far from where the journey began in Russia and Lithuania; bringing light to those around us, today and in the days to come.