“No, you can’t wear 3-inch strappy heels for your Bat Mitzvah service!” I exploded. “But Mom, it is my choice!” pleaded my 12 year-old-daughter. “No it’s not! You will not carry our sacred Torah in those shoes!” I screamed back. Sigh, I did not mean to raise my voice. My emotions are running a bit high as we count off the weeks before my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. There is so much pressure leading up to this Jewish rite of passage. As parents, we want our children to do us proud and read from the Torah. We worry about how they will do as we struggle with the countless details of planning a party. We are stressed over whether to invite distant friends, difficult relatives and how to feed them all. And then, there is dealing with our budding adolescent who wants to make choices for herself. What is a good Jewish parent to do?
Despite all the anxiety we know that a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is important. It connects us with tradition, Torah and God. Our grandparents had one, our parents had one and now it is the next generation’s turn. We want our children to maintain this Jewish ritual, because it connects them to those who have lived before us. We are linked to a long lineage of Jews going all the way back thousands of years to Abraham and Sarah. There is something so powerful about connecting with the generations and knowing that we are part of Jewish history, living in the present and planting seeds for the future.
A Bar/Bat Mitzvah service is also about responsibility. Our children are now considered to be Jewish adults who are responsible for following all the commandments of the Torah such as kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), holidays, Shabbat, charity and learning. In other words, God holds them liable for the choices they make. There is even a prayer a father says in a traditional shul at his son’s Bar Mitzvah. It is translated as: “Blessed are you Adonai, our God, sovereign of the universe, who has freed me from the punishment due this boy.” In other words, the father is thanking God, for not holding him responsible for the things his son does or says.
I think we would all like to be relieved of the choices our children make, but they are not so easy to dismiss. We recognize as parents that our children and teenagers still need to be guided to make good decisions. We want them to grow up to be responsible adults, self sufficient, good and caring men and women, and proud Jews. And so we continue to push them to study, do well in school, care about the unfortunate, attend religious school and ponder the consequences of their actions. Even as they attain Jewish adulthood, we still care about them and love them.
So, how am I to guide my daughter on whether to wear high heels at her Bat Mitzvah service? Yes, on the one hand, she is coming of an age where she can and should make choices both Jewishly and personally. On the other hand, there are consequences for her and others. Well, after I calmed down, we talked. I spoke about how hard it is to stand for hours in heels. Furthermore, walking with the Torah throughout a congregation is difficult even when wearing comfortable shoes. After some dialogue, we compromised. She will wear sparkling, outrageous heels at other events and services, but for her Bat Mitzvah, she will wear shoes that can withstand the hours. Phew, one argument resolved. The days and weeks will go by fast until her Bat Mitzvah arrives. It is my hope that we will be able, with the wisdom of our Torah, to help guide our daughter to make good decisions for years to come. ✿
Rabbi Nancy Rita Myers serves at Temple Beth David in Westminster, CA and is the mother of two children.