The Last Bat Mitzvah

Amid the rain and cold, a father finds the light and meaning of his daughter's bat mitzvah.

It was cold. It was wet. It was the coldest, wettest day New Orleans has seen in a year. It was raining, and it was going to rain more.

That was not the way we imagined it not more than a year ago, when we began planning

the last bat mitzvah

. The last we were going to do, for our younger daughter. We had imagined sunshine. We had imagined the delightful sunny weather of New Orleans in November, with the days just right: crisp but not too hot.

Instead, we got the deluge. The Torah portion should have been Noah with his ark to survive the flood, but it was Vayera instead.

We are blessed with two daughters, born seven years apart. So the previous bat mitzvah had been at a different time in our lives, and even in history. There had been sunshine at that bat mitzvah, and after the beautiful Shabbat, with our family from all over still hanging out, we watched the handshake on the White House lawn--Clinton, Rabin, and Arafat signaling that peace might finally be at hand--and that felt like an extra blessing, the greatest bat mitzvah gift we could imagine.

Now, seven years later, there was no sunshine and there was no peace. And there weren't going to be any handshakes on the White House lawn. And as we sat up on the

bimah

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(podium) in this beautiful domed synagogue on St. Charles Avenue, we wondered how we would recapture the beauty and magic of the last bat mitzvah.

Our daughter Kezia was used to beating the odds. She'd been born against the odds--in a hospital in this old city, where a few moments after her birth she'd ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit. Not long after that, as part of her treatment for a rare condition at birth, she'd been completely immobilized by a drug derived from curare.

For 10 days, she could not move, and a machine breathed oxygen into her body while we watched, praying and crying and holding her hand. And we sang to her, as I'd sung to her before she was even born, a little song of Shlomo Carlebach's:

Haneshama lach, v'haguf...

"The soul is Yours, the body is Yours, have mercy on Your handiwork."

I used to sing that to her long before she was born, addressing my voice to her soulfulness growing in the womb. And now, under the bright lights of the intensive-care unit, huge in her plastic tray (the other babies were mostly preemies, as she was not), I sang it again, though she couldn't move--and a small yellow tear rolled out of her eye. Of course, I believed she could hear me, and remembered...

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