Photo credit: Jesse Cooper

What Makes This Bat Mitzvah Different From All Others…?

The Talmud records Rabbi Chanina as stating, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students.” That teaching was on my mind when I recently officiated at a Bat Mitzvah in Auburn, Alabama. It was my fourth b’nai mitzvah in that community, but this one was a little different. The Bat Mitzvah “girl,” Courtney, was an adult… and not only that, she had also been the teacher for all the other b’nai mitzvah students.

When Courtney reached out to me six months earlier saying it was time for her to have a Bat Mitzvah, my first reaction was, “You haven’t had one?”

At first it was hard to grasp that this talented lay-leader who had literally taught Torah to the congregation’s students, had never been called to it herself. But my surprise quickly turned to excitement at the thought of helping someone complete such an important rite.

The nice thing about tutoring a Bat Mitzvah tutor is you don’t really have to do anything. That’s equally true when it comes to leading a service for one of the congregation’s service leaders. But I did have one important role: A Bat Mitzvah, no matter how well prepared, cannot call herself to the Torah for her aliyah.

Calling Courtney for her own aliyah was powerful, but it was the one before that I’ll never forget. For the penultimate aliyah of her Bat Mitzvah, Courtney chose to honor her students.

I watched as these young people came to the bimah, opened their books, and recited the blessings – blessings they had learned from her. Here was the teacher suddenly relying on her students. And here were the students, giving the greatest honor to their teacher.

In small congregations people have to wear many hats. Sometimes the role of student and teacher is switched. Sometimes being Temple President is also your Bat Mitzvah project. Admittedly, my rabbinic work is not always easy, but then there are moments like this that make it all worth it. These moments illustrate what community really means: We all support each other, throughout our lives and life cycle events.

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