and it was lovely. That's how I started my post 2.5 years ago for Kendra's bat mitzvah and it was equally true of Zara's. Months and months of work and preparation and anxiety led up to it, but (despite a few glitches) it was a wonderful experience for all, I think. The service was beautiful; many members of both my family and my ex's family participated. Zara was poised and confident and knowledgeable and just a joy to behold. The party was fun for all. I was so happy to get some time with relatives from Winnipeg and the Twin Cities and friends from all over the New York area plus Massachusetts and Connecticut. We managed to sleep nine in my 750 sq. ft. apartment and to feed hordes of people and show them some of NYC. The last of the relatives left yesterday and I miss them already.
That's it in a nutshell. Details behind the cut.
I've been sick for about two weeks now, which made the last minute preparations difficult. Zara, Justine (Zara's tutor), and I all got some virus at the same time, but Zara was miraculously :-) well by the bat mitzvah, so it was not so bad that Justine and I were still coughing up our lungs by Bat Mitzvah Day.
My first set of relatives (my cousin Karen, her husband Al, and their kids Shayna and Laia) arrived the Sunday before. My aunt and two of my cousins work together in a small family business and cannot be away from work at the same time, other than the weekend, so one group came for the week before and the other came just before the bat mitzvah and stayed afterwards. Karen and Al and the kids were such intrepid tourists! They did so much in a week: two Broadway shows, AMNH, Bronx Zoo, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and lots and lots of walking around New York City. I took them to the Bronx Zoo and had a great time.
Friday morning Zara and I bought flowers for the shul and arranged them, brought the programs (thank you talktooloose for the thoughtful beta - they looked great and I love your suggestion for use of italics) and beverages for kiddush to shul. I'd previously brought candy, kippot, and paper goods (not having a car, I lugged stuff over a period of days). So all was there that we needed. We were joined by Justine and Carie (our rabbi) and did a thorough rehearsal. Then the caterers arrived with the kiddush food so we inspected all that. My sister Sharon and SIL Tina and their son Ian arrived from the Twin Cities while we were rehearsing and let themselves in and got settled. It was so fun to come home to them!
On Friday night we had out-of-towners dinner, and were also joined by Vicki (woman I have been dating for a few months), so she could meet my family. Zara and I did the cooking. The menu was:
Smoked Salmon Canapes
Cocktail Franks in Bread Wrapping
Wine, Grape Juice and Challah (Challah made by Zara and Ian)
Chicken Soup with Knaidlach
Twice Baked Potatoes
Lime Pie in the Style of Key Lime Pie (we used regular limes)
My aunt Fraydel, cousin Brenlea and Brenlea's daughter Morgan were supposed to arrive at 9:45 and stay with my across the street neighbors, but they were very much delayed with their second flight canceled and getting stuck in Toronto, so I went across the street and told them they were off the hook and we all squeezed into my little place after all (with me sleeping on the kitchen floor, an experience I hope not to repeat, even when healthy).
The programs were a real hit - lots of people complimented me on them. The shul was very full and everyone was excited for Zara. Her talit had not arrived but I have two and she has been wearing my other one since she came of age (second day of Pesach) and said she was happy to wear it again. She looked lovely - the dress went really well with the talit, her sister had done her hair, she managed to walk in her high heels without looking awkward, even while carrying a torah. Kendra looked lovely, too and even Doran dressed up for the occasion (although he was back in a Marvel T-shirt that says "Bring on the Bad Guys" and jeans for the party). I wore a pink linen dress and jewelry I'd made to coordinate with it.
And Zara did beautifully! "The voice of an angel" was the most frequent comment on her davening and leyning I heard. As I said to S, who would have thought that she and I would have a kid who could sing? But she truly can. She led the torah service with great confidence, chanted the Maftir That Never Ends flawlessly, did her two haftarahs - including a part in the extra one she and Justine translated and then sang in haftarah trope in both English and Hebrew. She then gave a great dvar, speaking clearly and engagingly for 15 minutes with complete aplomb and poise (thank you, John McEneny). The other leyners (my cousin Al, my sister Sharon, Doran, Kendra, Justine and me) were all considerably more nervous but we all did at least okay and some better than okay and I loved that we did all the leyning ourselves. In part of what Zara leyned there's a Hebrew word that sounds just like her name and she had originally wanted to point to herself in an exaggerated fashion when she got to it, but Justine nixed that. But she agreed to Zara's second plan, which was to wink and sing "Ha Zara" louder, and she did and it got a big laugh.
As some of you no doubt know, my ex and I do not always get along well (we'd probably still be together if we did get along well). There have been some difficult times leading up to the bat mitzvah but we were very much united in our joy and our love for Zara on the day. So much so that Carie told me she was asked whether we had gotten back together. This makes me very happy, since I have always felt so sorry for the kid when I see a family event where divorced parents can't get along.
S's family showed up in force, which was great to see. Two of her cousins came from Jordan Station, ON with their husbands and kids, as well as their mother, S's aunt. Two of S's brothers, her sister-in-law and her friend Annie did readings. I had my aliyah with Zara leyning and it was such a wonderful experience. I blessed Zara (following Carie's instructions that it needed to be a)short b) a true blessing and not a recap of the kid's whole life because if it doesn't follow those strictures it's the rabbi who gets grief); S read a blessing Carie had helped her choose; we finished the service. The kiddush and party were both lots of fun. Zara danced the night away as did most of her friends and many of mine.
We had a dj for the party, who played a great mix of music for the kids and for the parents. Zara is particularly into the Time Warp song from Rocky Horror so we asked them to do that and it was such fun to see generations of Rocky Horror aficionados singing and dancing along. The dj also does games and activities for the kids and they all seemed to have a great time (thank you, A Touch of Class DJ). The food was excellent and the service gracious (thank you Naturally Delicious. We had "photo favors" where there's a photographer there and you can go up and get your picture taken in various groupings and choose from assorted frames to bring home. Zara had come home from a friend's bat mitzvah with five or six different pictures, all really nice quality, and had asked if we could do it, too. It was a big hit. Kids got lots and lots of pictures, and we also did family groupings and one of all of our shul friends. And they will send me a CD of all the pictures that were taken! So, a really nice addition. Thank you, The Main Event .
The party was over at 11:00 and we were home a little before midnight and in bed a little after! We had a post-bat mitzvah brunch on Sunday (leftovers, bien sur!) and then some of us went to the New York Aquarium and the beach and some went into the city, did some sightseeing and saw a play. Over the next couple of days there was another trip to the zoo and aquarium and AMNH (I'm sure getting my money's worth from my memberships!), another play, an outing to a Mexican restaurant for Cinco de Mayo, and much family joy.
Kids went back to school on Monday, I went back to work on Wednesday. All in all a success.
Here's the blessing (more or less, I didn't write it out) that I gave Zara at the bat mitzvah:
When Mommy S. suggested we name you Zara I researched the name. And since I was in labor at the time, I researched quickly. I was pleased to see it has a Hebrew root, the past tense of the verb "to rise" - not like in bread, but like the sun and the moon. You have risen and shone in our lives since the day you were born. So this is the blessing I wish for you - that you will continue to rise and to shine with joy, with insight, with learning, with kindness and with love. Amen.