Daugher of a Doofus

In many circles, including the one in which I grew up, a bar or bat mitzvah means a Jewish religious service, led by an adolescent who is ready to assume the role of an adult in the Jewish community, followed by a big party. Literally, however, bar mitzvah means son of the commandments, and bat mitzvah means daughter of the commandments. So technically, my daughter didn’t have her bat mitzvah yesterday, she became one. 

She did have a big party after the service, though. And there’s the rub. I suck at party planning–totally suck at it.

One of my duties was to write a speech that my husband and I (okay, I) would present to the congregation and our daughter on the bima (pulpit). That should be no problem for me, right? Wrong. It was tough. I couldn’t figure out how to get started. Should I go the “detailed retrospective of her life” route? Or should I dive right into the “study hard and be a good Jew” routine? 

C’mon, I scolded myself, you know how to do this! Start with a decent hook that leads you to the essence of your desired message. My goal was to say something meaningful that neither bored people to tears nor took the spotlight away from my daughter, that wasn’t trite, and that was no more than one double-spaced page.

I stared at a blank screen for hours, but I couldn’t find my point of entry. Eventually, it occurred to me: start with the good stuff: chocolate. Whew! I was off and writing, and it was with great pleasure that I tucked a double-spaced printed draft into the back of my siddur (prayer book) yesterday morning. 

My daughter did beautifully. The prayers, the Torah reading and Haftorah, the cues to the congregation, her speech–all lovely. Then it was my turn. 

On the rabbi’s cue, I slipped the paper out of my siddur, and my husband and I approached the podium. Friends, family, and miscellaneous congregants watched expectantly as I unfolded the paper. I looked down, ready to read the speech on which I’d worked so hard.

Unfortunately, I found myself staring not at my speech, but at series of poems for a candle lighting ceremony at the reception. I looked up and the audience. Down at the paper. Nope, still not the speech. For a split second I considered just reading the little poems my daughter had penned:

You take us during the summer,
Which is never a bummer.
I hope today you’ll boogie and jive.
Grandma and Grandpa, come light candle number five.

Right. There was no way I was pulling that off. In one fell swoop I had demonstrated that my daughter was not only a daughter of the commandments, she was also the daughter of a doofus.

“This,” I announced, holding the paper up for inspection, “Is not my speech. It’s poems for the candle lighting. Looks like I’m winging it.” And I did. 

After the ceremony, some guests asked about it, and when I said the one I’d written was better, they said, “Blog it!” So here it is. It’s not the best speech ever written, and it slightly exceeded the one double-spaced page rule, but it’s honest, heartfelt, and still folded up in my purse.

Thank you so much for being here to share this special day. You all know that we are extremely proud of Hannah and her accomplishments, and I’ve been asked to keep this short, so today, as our beautiful daughter becomes a bat mitzvah and takes her place in the Jewish community, I’d like to go ahead and publicly admit that Hannah’s first “real” foods were chocolate and whipped cream.
Yes. Chocolate and whipped cream. You won’t find that in any What to Expect book. No pediatrician will ever recommend these foods. I did not care. 
Hannah, you insisted on being born early. We tried to convince you otherwise, but you, my already strong-willed child, insisted, so there you were over a month early. It should have been our first clue that we were in for a wild ride.
A couple of weeks later, Daddy and I found ourselves in the pediatric ward of the hospital asking questions like, “Could we lose her?” and receiving ambiguous answers. Clearly…. miraculously, we didn’t, but that scare pulled things into sharp focus.
Your illness showed us how tenuous life can be, and when they sent you home a week later, scrawny and hooked to monitors but breathing, eating and maintaining your body temperature–you know, things babies are supposed to do–we vowed to make your time with us count. 
If you only had a limited time, I wondered, what must you experience?
Love, obviously. You’ve got to know love.
And chocolate. No child of mine would leave here without knowing the pleasure of chocolate. A little Hershey’s syrup on my finger during one of your many middle-of-the-night feedings solved that problem easily.
And whipped cream. Good heavens! Whose existence would be complete without whipped cream? Not mine. And not yours, either, if I had anything to say about it. It’s cream and sugar, I reasoned, and that taste of Redi-Whip by the glow of the refrigerator light didn’t seem to hurt you one bit.
You loved them both, by the way.

Here we are, 13 years later, watching you read from the Torah. You’ve grown into a beautiful, sweet, and smart young lady who takes life’s challenges head on, who speaks her mind, and who pursues her interests. Daddy and I could not be prouder. 
Our wish, as you become a bat mitzvah and leave childhood behind, is for you to seek and relish those things that remind you to celebrate the finite time you have on earth. Remember to keep working, striving, and learning, just as you’ve done to prepare for this special day. These things will get you far in this life, and you will have to move out eventually. No, seriously. But don’t forget to savor life, too. 
We got you started with love, chocolate, and whipped cream. You’re ready to take it from here.
Thank you, everyone, for being here to celebrate with us. Shabbat shalom.   

6 Comments on “Daugher of a Doofus

  1. I am crying reading this. (I confess, I am selfishly thinking a bit about my own son's upcoming Bar Mitzvah, just a bit over a year from now and thinking how glad I am this speech is not a tradition at our shul!) What a beautiful speech, and even if it wasn't delivered exactly as written, I am sure it was from the heart and eloquent and now the “real” one is preserved for posterity!


  2. Wonderful speech! Sounds suspiciously like the one you actually gave. That says a lot about your short term memory. Thank you for including us in Hannah's special day. She is a vivacious and adorable young lady. Kind of like her mom!


  3. Beautiful words for your daughter. My son had a rough start in the beginning too. Certainly has a way of changing your perspective on things. Taste of an ice cream cone (oh no, it's dairy!), nibbles of chocolate (eek), and sucking on the end of a Slim Jim (the horrors) to pacify him when we were stuck in a horrible traffic jam. Couldn't agree with you more.


  4. Oh, this is so beautiful. When I think of Hannah, I think of a little girl, but she's become a young lady. Congratulations to her!


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