Monday, August 29, 2011

ritual festivities

Intro: There are three major divisions in Judaism...Reform, Conservative and Orthodox and there are some divisions within each category, for instance within the Orthodox there is also the Chasidim which are, in a sense, ultra-orthodox. Reform is the most liberal and Orthodox, the most literal. Perhaps the main difference between the two is that Reform does not consider the Torah to be written by god however divinely inspired, are gender inclusive and do not necessarily observe all the 'rules' or commandments, for example, keeping kosher. We belonged to a Reform congregation, the one our daughter also belongs to. If you are interested in learning more about the differences, historical and modern, this is a good site to visit. You can read the whole page or scroll down to the section 'Movements in the United States Today'.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah takes place during Friday night and Saturday morning services. Friday night, Marc and I, Marc's brother Starr and Marc's Uncle Larry as well as the girls and their parents (our daughter and her husband) sat on the bimah representing four generations and the continuity of life and tradition. The bimah is the raised platform at the front of the sanctuary on which is the Ark (cabinet) that holds the handwritten parchment Torah scrolls that are read from during the services, like the picture in my previous post. The Torah is read start to finish every year. Well, one third of it, but still every year starting with the first book of Genesis and ending with the last book of Deuteronomy. It takes three years for every passage to be read and every congregation wherever they are in the world is reading the same passage on the same day.

It was fun sitting up on the bimah. You could see everyone who came and Marc and I were picking out family members who were there Friday night. Marc comes from a very large family with contingents in Dallas and Denver as well as Houston and a lot of them came. (One contingent from Dallas we knew was in town but they didn't show up. We found out why later.) Saturday we all, even the girls, sat with the rest of the congregation, albeit on the first row and went up to the podium or bimah when called.

We (me) paid very little attention to the service. Most of it is in Hebrew and all the responsive reading is in English but the prayer books have it all printed three ways. First in Hebrew, second in a transliteration of the Hebrew and then also in English. So if you can read Hebrew it's there, if you can't read Hebrew but want to pray in that language you can read the transliteration or you can follow along in English. Oftentimes the prayers and readings are recited in Hebrew and English both. The prayer book also has historical and language notes on each page which I think is the most interesting part of all.

Both girls did a great job. On Friday the temple had inadvertently scheduled a famous Jewish musician, Rick Recht, to 'perform' the songs and prayers throughout the service instead of the Cantor. The Cantor is the person who traditionally sings and chants the songs and prayers. When the temple realized the conflict they left it up to the girls as to whether they should reschedule the musician but they were OK with it (they didn't really know who he was) and as it turned out, it was very cool. He's a young and upbeat guy and the children's choir also participated some. It was very fun and added a lot to the girl's experience I think. It was certainly a unique experience as all of the other B'nai Mitzvot coming up will have only the Cantor.

After the service on Saturday morning, the girls' great aunt and great uncles (Marc's sister and brothers) gave a catered lunch there at the dogs from James Coney Island. We found out then why none of the Binders had shown up. One of Marc's 51 first cousins has been gravely ill (which we had known) and had slipped into a coma and was expected to die at any time so the family was gathered and waiting.

Then it was off to the hall (the very reasonably priced local carpenter's union) to finish getting it set up and decorated in preparation for the big party that night. We filled helium balloons until our fingers gave out tying the knots while Jade made balloon animals and the tables were covered in colorful cloths with pictures of the girls scattered on them. Our daughter, Sarah, did a great job on a shoestring budget, having a friend cater the dinner while her husband made 150 cupcakes and gallons of tea and lemonade with music provided by the play list on their laptop. A keg of beer rounded it out.

The party was a big success, the girls had a great time, all their friends came and by the end there were very few helium balloons left having all been inhaled (the helium, not the balloons) or otherwise played with til they popped. Marc's family loves to celebrate the life cycle events and it's always fun when we get together and catch up on each other's lives and kids.

As it turned out we hit just about every life cycle event this past weekend. We got to meet two of the three new babies in the family and there was a baby shower for another branch of the family on Saturday, the twins coming of age, one of the cousin's daughters had gotten engaged just a few days earlier and the ill cousin passed away early Sunday morning. So we marked the events of birth, coming of age, marriage and death.



  1. wow. what a great and full weekend. like you said, hitting each major life event like that all in one sitting...

    the hall decor looks great! love the balloons and colors! i know they will remember their day for years and years...

  2. I've brushed up against Jewish culture and religion the last few years. I've attended a service celebrating a baby's birth and been to a wedding but not a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

    Looks like everybody had a fine time. :)

  3. I think so many people don't pay enough attention to the rituals and traditions of life, and yet what better way to mark the crossroads?

    Loved this post.


  4. What a huge weekend. I think it was lucky to have that musician show up at exactly the same time as the Bat Mitzvah! And any party that has cupcakes and beer is automatically awesome.

  5. Congratulations to the girls! They look so pretty in their picture, and the hall looks beautiful with those colors.

    I've had a couple of really close Jewish girlfriends but neither practiced their religion, which I could not understand at all. In a class on religions we visited a reform church (or is it synagogue?) and the female rabbi explained much to us and the mysticism of Judaism sounds much like how I believe.

    Thank you for sharing this Ellen.

  6. To life, indeed!

    Life is so precious, at every stage and station.

    I think the girls look lovely, and I love how the decorations in the hall even matched their dresses. Well done, shoestring or not: everything looked so festive and cheerful!

  7. The power that must eminate when the same words are being read!

    The cycles of life...beautiful but I have a hard time with the last, even though I know I shouldn't.

  8. The girls look so lovely. Y'all have a couple of future heartbreakers on your hands there Ellen. And the hall looks so festive and fun - nice job on your sister's planning.

  9. Sounds like everyone had a marvelous time, though I'm sorry for your family's loss.

    I've attended the same events which Frank mentioned, plus a Bar Mitzvah, as it's my family that he has been brushing up against (perv) ;)

  10. Fantastic! Mazel tov!! They both look great, especially in the balloon hats. And now they are women. Wow.

  11. I LOVE the decorations - well done Ellen's daughter (and of course all the rest of you who helped).

    They wore the dresses they made - so cool!

    I've often wished that our church services were on Saturday - for some reason getting up for church on Sunday knowing that work looms on Monday is really hard. Probably not a good reason to make a faith switch though, huh?


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