At moms bat mitzvah, daughter plays role of parent

“L’dor v’dor,” from generation to generation, acquired a whole new dimension for Nina Bonos and her daughter, Lisa. When Bonos, 60, prepared for her bat mitzvah this year, her 29-year-old daughter provided critical support.

“It was truly incredible. Lisa really acted as my guide and essentially my mother during the process,” said Bonos, who celebrated her bat mitzvah three months ago at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa. Nearly 200 friends and family gathered to hear her chant Hebrew and teach the lessons of the Torah.

While Bonos, the owner of Nina’s Joyous Judaica, a Santa Rosa art company, is deeply involved in the Jewish world, she did not celebrate a bat mitzvah while growing up, as it wasn’t an option at the time.

“I always knew that I wanted to have one; it was just a matter of when,” she said.

In 1995, when Lisa was preparing to become the first woman in their family to celebrate a bat mitzvah, Bonos realized that her own mastery of the Hebrew language was minimal.

Lisa Bonos and her mom, Nina, who holds a Torah covered with a mantle she designed. photo/bob stender

“I began taking lessons just after my daughter’s bat mitzvah and just before my son’s bar mitzvah,” she said.

While taking Hebrew classes with the rabbi, Bonos also created artwork for her daughter and son’s ceremonies. For her daughter’s celebration, she created two large banners for the sanctuary. She later created Torah table covers for her son Peter’s bar mitzvah.

“That’s really where the inspiration came from,” she said. “Artists get inspiration from life and Judaism has been a huge part of my life. With my 60th birthday around the corner, I knew that it was finally my time to have a bat mitzvah.”

But first, she wanted to find “the perfect tallit,” as she termed it.

“One day I tried on a traditional tallit, and when I wrapped myself in it, I finally felt how I always knew I was supposed to feel. I felt holy,” she said.

With the help of friend and teacher Marcia Gladstone, Bonos was able to feature her previous artwork in the ceremony and add pieces to her tallit from the Torah table covers she had made for Peter.

In addition, husband Dino Bonos created a slideshow that was featured the night before the ceremony at Shomrei Torah, in appreciation of Nina’s art contribution to the synagogue and the larger Jewish community.

For daughter Lisa, news of her mother’s planned bat mitzvah came as a surprise.

The two managed to communicate over the 3,000-mile barrier that separates Santa Rosa from Washington, D.C., where Lisa works as an editor for the Washington Post.

“My mom was calling me to ask questions, texting me dress options and asking me for help with her speech,” she said.

“I must have gone through at least 13 drafts, when writing my Haftorah,” her mother joked. “Lisa really stepped up to the plate. She asked me questions about my past experience and asked me to find what was meaningful in my life. With her help I found a way to relate my life to the teachings of my Torah portion.”

It wasn’t until the day of the ceremony that Lisa realized the roles of their mother-daughter relationship had been switched — even if just for those brief hours.

“My mother was so nervous that day,” Lisa said. “I remember having to stand with her and tell her the same things she told me when I was a kid. I told her to take a deep breath, relax and to draw on her years of meditation.”

Lisa continued to take on a motherly role as she came up for her aliyah and congratulated her mother on the milestone achievement — a speech normally given during the ceremony by the child’s parents.

“She completely blew me away,” Lisa said. “As a kid sitting in services, I would always listen to my mom follow along in the Hebrew, even sometimes correct her, but that day she was leading our congregation.

“The whole experience made me realize that l’dor v’dor is passed in both directions,” she added.

Meanwhile, Lisa described her own experience in a Washington Post blog post, noting that she told her 5-foot-1-inch mother, “Well, little momma, you’re a woman now.”

For Bonos, having a bat mitzvah made her feel she had come of age as Jew. “I think that had I done this as a child, I wouldn’t have appreciated it the way I do as an adult,” she said. “It’s one thing creating art to express my inner feelings, but to give voice through the depths of my soul by chanting Hebrew was the most incredible, spiritual and strengthening experience.”

For more on the mother-daughter bat mitzvah experience, see Lisa’s Washington Post story here.