Fourteen years … and a few lessons learned.

“The only way to find the limits of the possible is by going beyond them to the impossible.”
~Arthur C. Clarke

Fourteen years. Fourteen years since I read from the Torah and Haftorah, fourteen years since I stood next to Cantor Zelson and chanted my portions, fourteen years since I stood before Rabbi Parker and listened to the words of wisdom he offered on my special day. Fourteen years to the day that I had my Bat Mitzvah and became an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community. How can that be? In some ways, it feels like it happened only yesterday. In others, it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then, yet so many other things remain the same.

Temple Zion was my synagogue growing up. I enjoyed going to Hebrew school, loved listening to the cantor sing during services, embraced the holidays and the true sense of community that our synagogue embodied. So when I got the news that it was closing, that the financial stresses became too much for a small congregation, I was beyond sad. Making it even more upsetting? Temple Zion closed its doors less than six months before my Bat Mitzvah. Cue: panic. Where would we have the service? Would our rabbi and cantor still be able to lead it? What were we going to do?

My mother’s always been the type to go above and beyond. Notes in my lunchbox, homeroom mom, and more, I can’t think of a time when she hasn’t been there for me (and our whole family). That’s why it didn’t surprise me in the slightest when she sprang into action and set about working things out. My party was going to be held in one of the banquet rooms at a local hotel, so she spoke with a manager, explained the situation, and arranged for the service to be held in one of the meeting rooms. Getting prayer books from another synagogue, a makeshift arc to hold the Torahs our rabbi owned, even arranging for our synagogue’s organ player to provide the music at the service … she thought of it all. The building that housed our synagogue may have been sold, but that didn’t stop me from continuing my lessons. I met with the cantor first at her apartment and then at her new synagogue, wrote my speeches and read them to the rabbi in his study at home. It took a lot of planning and some clever maneuvering, but come October 12, 1996, my Bat Mitzvah was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

To this day, I can still remember how excited (and nervous, very nervous!) I felt when the rabbi called me up in front of everyone to recite the blessings and my portions. I was rather shy back then, so the idea of reading so much in Hebrew – in front of seventy-five people, no less – was a bit intimidating. Once I got up there, though, it was nothing but special. The blessings, my readings, holding the Torah and then reciting my speeches, all of it is engrained in my mind like a beautiful picture. Everything about that day is a precious memory. I smile every time I think of the service, the candlelighting ceremony, and the way everyone had such a good time at the party. I smile when I think of one of my teachers coming up to me after the service and going “I’ve never heard you talk so much at once!” I smile when I think of all the special people who celebrated with me, when I think of dancing with my then two month old cousin, who just celebrated her fourteenth birthday this summer. And most of all? I smile when I think of all we accomplished when we refused to take no for an answer.

Bat Mitzvah family shot

So many things stood in our way. The synagogue closed. No one had extra prayer books to lend at first. Our cantor got a job at another synagogue and had to lead a Bar Mitzvah there the same day. But we didn’t give up. We worked to find solutions, stayed dedicated to making it happen. So what if we had to cut the party short by an hour so the service could start later and accommodate Cantor Zelson? So what if I became a Bat Mitzvah at a hotel instead of the synagogue that had been like another home for so many years? Of course I would have preferred that option, but in the end, it didn’t matter. The building didn’t matter. The people did. And you know, having to work so hard to combat those obstacles just ended up making the end result even more meaningful. Were there things completely beyond our control? Yes. But did we let them stop us? Not a chance.

I look at the journey to publication the same way. It’s a tough industry and so much of it is out of an author’s hands. But is that a reason to give up? Absolutely not. It’s a reason to work harder, be more dedicated, reach out further to make an impact on the things you can control. I’m a chapter away from finishing the first draft of my manuscript (aka: expect a tearful post sometime soon). Do I know how agents will react when I query it? No, but what I do know is how truly special a process it’s been for me so far. Just like my Bat Mitzvah, it’s been a learning experience in more ways than one. When I think of writing it, I’m filled with the same pure joy that it’s given me these past two months. Connecting with a project like that is a gift, and I’m so grateful for it. Writing this novel has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And when I start to transition into the next phase? I’ll remind myself of some of the lessons my Bat Mitzvah taught me.

Anything worth having is worth fighting for. When you love something, you do whatever it takes to make that dream into a reality. It’s what we did fourteen years ago, and what I’ll keep on doing now. And, hopefully, it will make the outcome mean even more one day. In the meantime, I’m just going to continue embracing the journey.


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