Neither rain nor wind can keep bat mitzvah girls from celebrating

Thirteen-year-old Lindsey Bronston has endured more hardship in three years than many American Jews do in a lifetime. And yet, she remains “happy” and “hopeful.”

Lindsey moved to Houston three years ago after her family was forced to evacuate their New Orleans home during Hurricane Katrina. She was scheduled to celebrate her bat mitzvah Sept. 19 and 20, but Hurricane Ike struck Sept. 13, leaving her synagogue without electricity and damaged from wind and rains.

Determined still to celebrate the important milestone, Lindsey and her bat mitzvah partner, Jolie Starr, moved their entire bat mitzvah celebration — Friday night and Saturday services, and their party — from Congregation Beth Israel to the Omni Houston Hotel.

“I was very nervous [last month] after seeing Hurricane Ike heading toward Houston,” Lindsey said.

Five days after the hurricane struck — and one day before their daughter’s bat mitzvah — the Bronstons were still without electricity at their new Houston home and were staying in a hotel room.

“I was pretty nervous a few days after the storm, too,” Lindsey said the day before her ceremony. “It’ll definitely be a bat mitzvah to remember. Given all that we’ve gone through, it’ll go down in history.”

Three years ago, Lindsey thought she’d be a New Orleanian for life. She loved her Garden District congregation, Touro Synagogue, and was very much looking forward to working with the rabbi and cantor as she prepared to become a bat mitzvah.

However, Hurricane Katrina changed all of that, and the Bronstons decided to make their refuge in Houston a permanent move.

“The transition was pretty easy to make, actually,” Lindsey said. “I love Houston now. I’ve made great friends, and I love my school and my new temple [Beth Israel].”

Jolie, Lindsey’s schoolmate as well as her bat mitzvah partner, was pleased the bat mitzvah celebration was held on its scheduled weekend.

“I didn’t want to reschedule the bat mitzvah, because I had been working really hard on my Torah and Haftorah portions, my speech and the prayers,” Jolie said. “I was pretty upset as the storm hit. When my mom suggested that we have the whole thing at the Omni, that really lifted my spirits.”

After the Category 2 hurricane struck, both families worked non-stop to re-plan the bat mitzvah, in addition to cleaning up the mess left by the storm. Plans to hold Shabbat services at the hotel were confirmed Sept. 18, the day before Shabbat. Beth Israel sent Torah scrolls and siddurs to the new venue that same day.

“We [viewed] this as an even greater mitzvah by going forward with it,” said Micki Bronston, Lindsey’s mother. “We’ve been through this before with Katrina. Jewish tradition tells us to go on and stay positive.”

Micki said she told the girls shortly after the hurricane struck: “If we can make it happen, we will make it happen.”

By still celebrating the bat mitzvah on its scheduled weekend, the Bronstons enjoyed the ingathering of family and friends, many of whom are from New Orleans but were dispersed all over the country after Katrina.

“We all had an unbelievable time together,” Micki said. “And the girls did an absolutely fabulous job.

“Somehow, we rearranged everything, even without power,” she added. “It’s been unbelievable, the help and support we’ve received from the Houston Jewish community — the temple, the school, everybody.”