Three times a mitzvah: Triplets celebrate rite of passage

Planning one bar or bat mitzvah takes a tremendous toll on a family.

Planning three at once is probably insane.

“Getting three ready is just overwhelming in terms of the amount of work that needs to be done,” David Salant said.

But Salant and his wife, Deborah, have triplets — so there was little choice.

Rebecca, Ilana and Max Salant became b’nai mitzvah a few months ago at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon after a year of tutoring, tutoring and more tutoring. It was the first triple b’nai mitzvah in the synagogue’s history.

The Salants, who live in Tiburon, actually struck offspring gold four times in very a short span in the mid-1990s. They also have a son, Jacob, who is only 18 months older than his triplet siblings (two sisters and brother).

“We’d just finished Jacob’s bar mitzvah ceremony,” said Deborah Salant, a trained psychotherapist who’s currently a stay-at-home mom, “and then we had to re-group for the triplets. I thought it’d be easier because I’d already been around the block.”

Salant’s hopes for a smooth ride, however, met obstacles big and small as she and David altered their original plans.

“We started off tutoring them all together,” she said, “but eventually we split them up because they progressed at different paces. It was a lot better when they could have their own space.”

Yetta Robinson, long-time Kol Shofar educator and b’nai mitzvah tutor, trained the Salant trio, but David, an economist who was often away four days a week during the process, stepped in to help each child learn how to chant their Torah portions.

“I had to help them,” said David Salant, who is currently teaching in France and will soon move the family there for a year, “because we couldn’t schedule enough time with Yetta.”

Another minor problem was choosing the theme for the party and reception.

Rebecca and Max favored a summer theme consistent with their warm days spent in the family condo on the Massachusetts coast. But Ilana, a student at Del Mar Intermediate School in Tiburon along with Rebecca, wanted to turn back the clock with a twinkling disco ball.

Democracy triumphed. Ilana was outvoted — or was ganged up on by the other two siblings, depending upon your view of family dynamics. They opted for the theme of a Cape Cod night, replete with lifeguard signs and ocean backdrops.

Despite all the hassles, “the theme turned out to be a unifying issue for them,” Deborah Salant said. “We had seashells, sand, and everyone wore sunglasses and beach hats.”

The family had another worry leading up to the event, which was held on the first Shabbat of 2008. They were concerned that the ceremony and reception might be in some peril because, earlier that week, a massive windstorm closed the Richmond-San

Rafael Bridge and limited the Golden Gate to one lane.

But the Salants managed to overcome all internal and external problems with a determined and necessary optimistic realism, both parents said.

Max seemed the most laid back about the entire process. While his sisters argued about the colors of the tablecloths at the party, he kept his cool.

“I really didn’t have any other option,” Max said. “It did seem so convenient to do the ceremony together.

“And the ceremony was the most important part of the day for me,” continued Max, an eighth-grader at San Rafael’s Dunham Academy, a school for gifted and motivated students, “because it’s an important ritual that’s been part of our people for so many years.”

Another challenge was dividing up which kid would do each portion of the Shabbat service and coordinating three different speeches on their Torah or Haftarah portions. They each chanted from Parashat Va’era. The portion deals with Moses and Aaron first encountering Pharaoh as they demanded he let the Israelites leave Egypt.

The oldest triplet, Rebecca, after reading the Book of Lamentations, which to her eerily resembled the history of the Warsaw Ghetto, opted to “talk about facing God when something bad is happening.” She is continuing her Holocaust inquiry with a specially designed intensive study program at Kol Shofar.

“I really liked reading Hebrew and learning about the past,” Rebecca said. “I did the Musaf service, which comes after the Torah service, and I really did well on the trope,” the musical notes used to chant the Torah and Haftarah portions, “even though I am not musically talented at all.”

Ilana didn’t comment about her Torah or Haftarah portion. Instead, she said, “I got to explore the depths of prayers and my ideas. The ceremony was something I knew I’d look back on and remember how proud of us all four grandparents had been.”

Looking back on all of the planning and preparation, Dad said the biggest challenge of all was getting his wife, Deborah, to practice her Torah reading.

“She hadn’t read from the Torah since her bat mitzvah some 40 years ago,” David Salant said. “We all had to gang up on her to practice. But she ended up doing the best job.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.