As someone who grew up with four sisters and can vouch wholeheartedly that sisters are one of the best gifts that life has to offer, it’s not easy for me to deal with the fact that I have only one daughter. And five sons.
On the other hand, I occasionally see families of all boys, so I’m not complaining. I’m thankful that I am privileged to have a daughter.
There’s no doubt that girls change the atmosphere at home. My boys are wonderful, each one of them – kindhearted and first-rate and strong, thank God, but they’re men. What can you do? There are things that boys just don’t see, and there are things that boys simply don’t think about. Except maybe boys who grew up in a house full of girls. Maybe.
Don’t worry, the picture was staged.
Last week, we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah (Jewish coming-of-age celebration) of our only daughter, our fourth child. Her friends have been dancing from Bat Mitzvah to Bat Mitzvah for about a year now, coming home at almost midnight and getting up tired but excited in the morning. At each party, she has been collecting ideas for impressive effects and surprising touches that no one else has thought of. When she tells us about her new ideas, our reactions are usually dismissive as we say with a smile: forget about it…
When she was born (the first time I gave birth in the warmth of summer and not in the middle of a freezing winter), it was clear to all of us that finally, our lawn would fulfill its hidden potential and become an outdoor event hall one day. We could celebrate her Bat Mitzvah under the stars and among the flowers, around a few round tables, in an intimate, family-style atmosphere.
But from about the age of ten, we realized that our daughter had a different picture in mind.
We could have managed with her dreams, but we weren’t able to manage with the other logistics. At some point, we realized that our lawn wasn’t big enough for all of the 70 friends and relatives. We knew that we didn’t want to offend any of her friends by not inviting them. We also didn’t have the energy to split the event into two separate parties.
We asked ourselves serious questions about parties and Bat Mitzvahs and social standards, and what was right for us. To what extent are we planning the party that we want, and how much of it is because this is how everyone else celebrates? How much are we being dragged after childish dreams and to what extent are we simply going with her ideas to make her happy? What is critical to us and what can we change?
It’s impossible not to drag out of oblivion the bitter memories of my own Bat Mitzvah about 33 years ago, which was six months after my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. He was born a year and a half before me, and so our events were pretty close together. After his Bar Mitzvah party – which was a huge event, as is fitting for a firstborn son – I had pretty high expectations. And the higher your expectations, the greater the disappointment.
Today, I am able to see the whole ordeal in proportion. After all, a Bat Mitzvah party was something that didn’t even exist in my parents’ generation. During the years when I was growing up, they had just started to develop and become a concept. I, who grew up until that point feeling like an equal next to my brother, didn’t really understand why there should be any difference. But my parents, exhausted from the production of the recent event and not exactly connected to the new Bat Mitzvah party concept, saw things otherwise.
So of course it’s important for our daughter to be happy, but it’s also important not to be caught up by every idea or gimmick. Again, I applied my personal test that I originally decided to use before our first son’s Bar Mitzvah: the stomach test. Our body has the amazing capability, if we just listen attentively and sensitively, to hint to us what is right for us and what isn’t. I understood this years ago while standing in a party store in front of some sort of knick-knack that I don’t remember exactly. It was meant as a decoration for the tables, or the walls, or the buffet. It was then that I felt it – the feeling in the pit of my stomach that our body signals to us when we are about to do something that isn’t really right for us. I understood then that this knick-knack wasn’t what I wanted, and if I almost bought it just to meet some social standard, I don’t need it. Since then, every stage in the Bar Mitzvah planning had to pass the stomach test. Our body knows what makes us truly happy and what is just burdensome – we would be better off without it.
The main thing that was clear to us was that we needed to put thought into how to create an event with content and meaning, not just a party where our daughter is queen for the day. What kind of Bat Mitzvah would be truly pleasing before the One who brought the mitzvot (commandments) down to this world.
We thought of content and ideas; we planned and organized. Some of the ideas went into a short film clip that we made, and others were spoken about by the people who gave speeches at the event. We wanted to give meaning to this turning-point event in our daughter’s life: the moment when she becomes responsible for fulfilling God’s mitzvot. What this moment means and what fulfilling the mitzvot means, especially in our challenging generation.
The result was moving and magical (and included a great juggling show put on by all of our talented men). I understood that no matter how much we think and plan and organize, the atmosphere really just depends on our daughter’s personality – who was so young, but then suddenly so mature! If she is sweet, happy, ethical, relaxed, kindhearted and radiant, then her Bat Mitzvah will be too.
Thank you, God, for giving us a daughter like her!