Monday, July 27, 2009

The Bat Mitzvah

Aimee's Bat Mitzvah was enjoyed by all. Baily did a fabulous job helping me organize the food (actually, I helped her). Aimee did a great job delivering her speech and Jason was as charming as ever. Geoff was his usual funny self and even got serious a few times during his introduction which didn't leave a dry eye in the room (either from laughing or crying). The rabbi topped it off with an inspiring talk about what it means to be a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. And Geoff surprised Aimee with a DVD like the one he did for me with photos of her life all to the tune of "Golden Lady" by Stevie Wonder.

The food: we had teriyaki salmon, potato knishes, pesto pasta salad, a feta cheese and sundried tomato pasta salad, a caesar salad, a red cabbage salad with garbanzo beans, brownies and cake. We also had drinks and crackers and humous dip and olive dip on each table. We had to ask people to take food home at the end - there was so much.

The clubhouse at DeAnza is absolutely gorgeous. You can see it behind Aimee in the first photo I posted of the event. (all of the photos are posted on the invitation website - let me know if you need the link) The clubhouse has a view of the ocean. Geoff's parents live there which is how we were lucky enough to be able to use the place for the party.

Everyone came in and shmoozed and then we told them to go ahead a eat. Then Geoff spoke and after him, Aimee gave her speech (copied for you below) and then the rabbi spoke. Geoff spoke about the pride and love he has for his children and his gratitude for everyone who was there celebrating with us (around 70 people). He introduced family members and included me at the end - saying we've come out of the darkness and into the light now.

The rabbi's talk clarified why we celebrate the time when a boy or girl becomes an adult and why. The 12 or 13 year old develops a maturity that can understand right from wrong. Once a child can do that, he or she can then become a player in the game of life. The ultimate purpose of life is to build a better world - a place where G-d can Live.

I listened to a talk by his father a few days before the Bat Mitzvah. It is called, "Existence vs Life" and can be found on He goes through the difference between merely focusing on your own existence and instead, living your life with the purpose of doing for others and for the world. When you are focused on your own existence, things like health, money, jobs, food, housing become important and your life becomes something you live in order to survive. Instead, living your life for the purpose that G-d intended for you - to help others and make this world a better place leaves your existence up to G-d and focuses you on what you are here to do. Very meaningful to me right now.

He explained that this is why we give the toast "L-Chaim" - which means "To Life". And why we give donations and Bat Mitzvah money gifts in multiples of 18. In Hebrew every letter has a numerical value and so the numerical value of the word "life" is 18. Judaism is more focused on this life than on the afterlife.

Anyway, I did get a bit stressed out after the Bat Mitvah was all over. I had to just sit in front of the TV and relax. I even was concerned I felt a cold coming on so I was reminded again that I am still in recovery and need to be careful. After rest and a good night sleep and some Chinese herbs: Gan Mao Ling, I felt better this morning and don't have a cold.

My dreams have been very symbolic lately. I had a dream last night that Stefanie gave me a Yad to write with. A Yad is a pointer that is used in some shuls for pointing at the words in the Torah during a Torah service. Instead of touching the holy scrolls, with your finger in order to keep your place while reading it outloud during the service, a Yad is used. In Hebrew "yad" means "hand". Anyway, I didn't want to use the Yad in the dream because it was too uncomfortable to write with.

But I do need to use that "Yad" because otherwise, I just get too stressed out and it's not good for me to do that right now. So a part of me is really glad that the Bat Mitzvah is behind me now and all I have to still do, that was a plan before the diagnosis, is to go to Hawaii!!! This week is Tisha B'Av and after Hawaii is my Jewish anniversary of getting diagnosed - the week between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur.

Here's Aimee's speech:

Hello, thank you for coming to my Bat mitzvah. I’m so glad you could all make it. I am really proud to be a bat mitzvah. Today is a special day for me and so I am going to tell you a little bit about what a Bat Mitzvah really is and a little something about what interests me in Judaism-my Jewish name. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the food.

Bat Mitzvah means Daughter of Mitzvahs in Hebrew. At 12, girls are responsible for everything they do. So if I do something wrong, my parents shouldn’t take the blame. When the Rabbi asked me what was the most interesting that I learned in my Jewish studies I immediately thought-the story of my Jewish name.

In Hebrew School, the most fascinating thing I learned (besides that Jelly Beans are Kosher) is the story of my Jewish name. My full Jewish name is Chana Yahudit. Chana means graciousness in Hebrew. The story of Chana begins a long time ago in Israel. A man named Elkanah had two wives. One had many children, the other, Chana, had none and her rival taunted her because of it. She cried and cried because she couldn’t have children. Once, while visiting Jerusalem, she prayed to G-d for a child and as she prayed the High priest named Eli watched her. He saw that she was moving her lips but no sound was coming out of her mouth. Since there was no silent prayer at the time, he thought she was drunk and scolded her. She told him that she was praying from her heart and that she had had nothing to drink. “Go in peace and may G-d of Israel answer your prayer.” Eli said to her. The next year she was blessed with a son. That is where we get our silent prayer from. Chana teaches us to pray from the heart. Chana’s prayer was the first silent prayer and we continue to pray in this way today! I hope, just like Chana, I can be gracious and sincere because I want my life to have an effect on our world.

In Hebrew, the letters in Chana’s name are the same as the first letters of the Hebrew words for the three main Mitzvahs of a woman. These Mitzvahs are lighting candles, going to the Mikvah and, my favorite, making delicious Challah. Challah is bread that Jewish families around the world make every Friday for Shabbat. In the days when the Temple was still standing, Jewish families would bake bread and donate a portion of the dough to the priest, like the Torah commanded. This portion of dough was called Challah. Nowadays we symbolically take a tiny piece of Challah and burn it in the oven after saying a prayer.

Challah on Shabbat symbolizes the manna G-d would give us when we were wandering in the desert. Because we were hungry and didn’t have food, G-d gave us manna and it could taste like anything we wanted it to taste like. On Friday G-d would give us two portions to eat because on Saturday, Shabbat, it would be forbidden to gather food, so the manna would not appear; so Friday, we would gather two portions so we could have one the next day. This is why we have two Challahs on Shabbat.

Challah is different from regular bread because you braid it and put egg on top of it to make it shiny and beautiful. I picked Challah as my favorite Mitzvah because I love making it with my mom. She gives me a little piece and I make my own Challah. When I was little I was so proud of myself when I saw the finished Challah I had made. I love the smell of baking Challah. My favorite memory of making Challah was at Hebrew school. We were making Challah and learning how to braid it. I didn’t think I knew how to braid it so I waited for someone to help me. While I waited I started to play with it. Then, I didn’t know how but I just started to braid it. It was so easy I felt like I had braided Challah for years! I was so amazed at what I could do and by the time someone came to help me I had finished. It was a great feeling.

The second part of my Jewish name is Yahudit. I like the story because in it Yahudit is a strong and brave girl who saves the day. It all started in the town of Bethulia. A mighty Greek general named Holofernes, the head of a huge army, decided to make the Jews surrender by cutting off their food and water supply. The Jews were so deprived of nourishment that they decided to surrender after only five more days. Yahudit was the only person to not agree with this plan. She said, “Why do you test G-d, giving him only five days in which to send us his help? If you truly have faith in G-d, you must never give up your trust in Him. Besides, don’t you know that surrendering to Holofernes is worse than death?!” They all agreed but didn’t know what to do to keep them alive. “We must all continue to pray and never despair,” Yahudit told them, “But I have also thought of a plan, I will need your permission to visit Holofernes.”

At first no one wanted her to risk her life in this plan but then finally let her go. Then she tricked Holofernes into eating very salty cheese she had brought and after that drinking some very strong wine. As soon as he dropped on the floor, very drunk and asleep, she took his sword and cut off his head. She also did this to another general. She had saved the Jews. Imagine how brave and smart she must have been to face Holofernes. If we could all be that brave we could accomplish anything.

Well, that’s the end of the stories about the strong women I was named after. I hope you enjoyed them. Before I go, I would like to say a few thank you’s. As I look around this room I see my family and friends. I would like to thank each person in this room from the bottom of my heart for celebrating with me. I would first like to thank my parents. Mom and Dad, you are always there for me when I need you. Mom, you have been so supportive of me in everything I do and are always looking out for me. You taught me kindness, generosity and how to make a mean kuggle. We have been through a tough year and I glad you can be with me here today. Dad, you taught me how to laugh and how to make people laugh. You cheer me up when I am sad and you give me great advice that no one else can give. Jason, you are one of my best friends and a great brother. We have had so many laughs together. You are one of the best siblings I have ever had. Without you my life would be very boring. Grandma Lee and Grandpa Dan, thank you so much for being so generous in everything you do for me and for putting a smile on my face when I walk in your house.. Grandma Shelia and Grandpa Norman, thank you for flying out from southern Califoria to be with me. Thank you for making me always so happy when you come to visit. Uncle Paul, Aunt Wendi, Samantha and Joshua thank you for coming here from Marin, your attendance made this day even more special. Also, a BIG Thank you to Rabbi Yochanan and Bailey for teaching me all I know about my Judaism and for getting me ready for today. Without you this day would not be possible. For All my friends here today, thank you for keeping my life exciting. Thank you for being with me through this tough year and for making me laugh a lot. Friends are really important to me. And to everyone here today, thank you for celebrating with me on my Bat Mitzvah day. I would like you all to all know that each and every one of you is special to me and my family, may we have many more celebrations together!