As the bat mitzvah approaches, a girl has questions

Everything was going wrong. First, her best friend moved. Not just to another town — she moved to another state!

She was starting a new school this year. Middle school was scary to think about, though she would never admit it out loud. She was too cool for that. Now her parents were talking about moving. Moving! To another town, with a better school district. She, of course, saw nothing wrong with this one.

OK, now add to all of this: her bat mitzvah.

"I don't want a bat mitzvah," she said.

"It's just for you and your relatives," she told her parents. "You don't even need me there. So why don't you just throw your own party?"

"Don't be silly," they answered. "This is for you; it's about you."

"Oh yeah? So how come no one will listen to me?"

Lessons with the cantor were OK. But then, the cantor was a cool guy. He never lied, never said you had done a good job when you knew you stank.

But what goes over well in a cantor's study isn't likely to go over well in front of a whole mess of people. She wouldn't even know most of those people, she was sure.

"I'll be a bat mitzvah automatically at 12 anyway," she said. "Why do we need the fancy ceremony?"

"We'll keep it simple," she was told.

"Why can't we just go to Israel for my bat mitzvah?" she asked.

"Would you like that? We could have the ceremony on Masada!"

"Oh," she said. "I thought we would just go and, y'know, kinda sightsee."

"That's not what this is about," they answered.

"Then what is it about?"

"If you don't know that, then you've wasted all your years in Hebrew school."

Well, no duh! She had slept through most of it.

She asked the cantor, "So what is it all about?"

"L'dor v'dor." he said.

From generation to generation?

"Tov me'od," he said. Very good. From generation to generation.

"From your parents' generation to yours. From your grandparents to your parents. From your great-grandparents to your grandparents.

"All the way back, and all the way forward. Throughout history, as long as there are Jews on earth, we will all be connected through things like the b'nai mitzvah. And the Shabbat. And brit milah," said the cantor. "And lighting candles, fasting on Yom Kippur, eating matzah, the seder. Sharing the stories of our ancestors with our children, as you will do someday, God willing, with yours. That's what it's all about."

That's why she liked the cantor. He answered her in words she could understand.

So she entered middle school, and did just fine. She studied her parashah, and learned the prayers. She thought about what the cantor had said, and pictured herself listening to her own son or daughter practicing. She imagined how her grandfather, now in his 70s, must have looked up on the bimah.

The week before her bat mitzvah day, she came down with a cold. Her practice was kept to a minimum to save her voice. Sneezing was a problem: a red nose for her bat mitzvah? But this, too, she weathered.

And then it was time.

She sat on the bimah, a demure young lady with ankles crossed and tissues in hand. She read her parashah, sang the blessings, led the service, gave a d'var Torah (biblical interpretation).

As she stood behind the pulpit, she looked into some of the faces in the sanctuary. And when she led the congregation in the prayer called L'dor v'dor, she sang it with feeling. She imagined the family members she had never met, going back generations. She thought about those who could not have a b'nai mitzvah before they were sent to the concentration camps. She thought about those who would celebrate b'nai mitzvah after she did, all the way down through the years.

Then she looked at her younger brother sitting in the first row, with her parents.

I wonder if he'll feel the same way I did, she thought. Well, at least he'll have me to help him.