See what I did there? Last weekend Cole (and Adam) had a Harry Potter-themed B’nai Mitvah.
I have no idea how to frame this post; friends and relatives have asked for pics and the streaming link (there is no sound until 15 minutes in, but then it’s all good), and it is hard to share our experience of the day without it coming off like a party rather than a religious rite of passage. I am going to share the decor details and food photos and all of that, but I need to start with how honored I am to be Cole’s mom and how proud I am of the young man he is becoming. Watching him lead a service – which I know he struggled with – was incredible. Far more so than the brunch following it.
My Torah portion is a special portion for the holiday of Sukkot. It comes from the book of Exodus and tells us about how Moses wants to see God. In my portion, God tells Moses that he cannot see God’s face. However, Moses can see God’s character. This is highlighted through a list of thirteen different attributes of God that includes compassion, grace, being slow to anger, being abundant in kindness, and forgiving of sin.
A theme in my portion is the importance of finding God in the world through these attributes or qualities. Whether we live out these attributes ourselves or we see these attributes in other people, we have the opportunity everyday to see God. This theme is connected to Sukkot because during Sukkot, we go outside into the Sukkah where we are supposed to recognize God’s presence in our lives.
According to The Talmud, when God appeared to Moses, God was wrapped in a tallis as one who leads a congregation in prayer and said to Moses “When Israel sins, let them recite the list of attributes.” I think God had the people recite this list for them to remember how to be good and how to find God in the world. Sometimes when people sin, it is because they are making a mistake. They just need a reminder of how they should ne, and reciting these attributes of God acts as a reminder.
In my life, I have seen qualities of God in other people. For example, my mom is a doula – and works with new mothers to help them take care of their babies and to help the mothers give birth. She also helps the mothers figure out how to be prepared for what they will need to take care of the baby. She and her friends look out for each other. If someone needs help, they help them – whether they know them or not. I have spent time volunteering with my mother to help those in need. I have also donated money to charities such as the turtle conservancy. I always try to be patient and kind to people. In a way, both my mom and I have helped to bring God’s qualities into the world – thereby making God real in the world.
I would like to thank the following people for helping me get to this day. I want to thank Shanna for helping me learn my portion. I also want to thank Cantor Anna for practicing the Torah and running through the service and Rabbi Brian for helping me with my speech. I want to thank my religious school teachers and my sister Lulu for helping me with blessings. Finally, I want to thank my parents for supporting me and helping me.
Shabbat Shalom. Thank you so much to everyone who is here celebrating with us today – and those who are watching on Zoom. We are so lucky to be a part of this vibrant and supportive temple community; to have incredibly warm and approachable clergy, and phenomenal educators from nursery through Nefesh. Thank you to Leah Moldovan and the Sisterhood for making the bima so beautiful. Thank you to Rabbi Brian and Cantor Anna, to Shanna and Morah Marilyn and Morah Lori, and all of the other teachers who have helped Cole be ready for today.
Cole, we hope you know we are so, so proud of you – not just today, but every single day. From the moment you were born, you have challenged Daddy and I as parents, and my sincere hope is that with all of the times I have gotten it wrong, I have gotten it right at least sometimes – and that you feel loved.
I hope that you feel the magic in the world around you, even if we are not at Hogwarts.
You are a Hufflepuff, despite taking multiple quizzes hoping to be placed someplace else – and while the sorting hat does take preference into account, I think in your case it got it right.
From the astute chapeau itself:
“You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
set Gryffindors apart;”
You certainly are determined. That much is clear to anyone familiar with your turtle project: you decided one day that you wanted a pet of your own. And so you took it upon yourself to research the best small animal, and figure out how to finance the habitat and care of it independently. You became a published author at 10 years old.
You are also brave at heart – moving through this world that confuses you and challenges you every step of the way… but I’m not sure that someone who is afraid of ladybugs could be called “daring” so we will move on.
“Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;”
Your Scrabble scores alone should qualify you for Ravenclaw. You are always ready to learn something new and your capacity to absorb trivia surrounding the subjects that interest you seems boundless.
Because of you, I know that a group of jellyfish is called a smack, and a giraffe runs at 35 mph. You spent an evening explaining to Daddy why renting rather than purchasing a home was a sound financial strategy, backed with facts from Adam Ruins Everything, which you were an avid fan of at the time – as most 9 year olds are…
Still, you lack the academic competitive nature that many Ravenclaws share.
“Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.”
Not even a little bit.
According to Albus Dumbledore, the qualities embodied by Slytherin include pride and “a certain disregard for the rules.”
The fact that my elbow on the edge of our Ferris wheel gondola nearly caused you to burst into tears because my arms weren’t entirely inside pretty much disqualifies you from Slytherin, I think.
Your regard for the rules is paramount. During the beginning of the pandemic, when there was a lot of press surrounding the importance of washing your hands for 30 seconds, you began humming HBD twice as a timer for yourself. To this day, you hum Every Single Time you wash up.
“You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;”
Given your affinity for animals, it is little wonder that you have been sorted into the same house as Newt Scamander, pioneer in the field of magizoology.
Hufflepuffs are known to have a strong moral code, and a sense of right and wrong.
J.K. Rowling herself is a problematic figure. When she first became known for her TERF tweets, we discussed the appreciation of the art as seperate from the artist. Someone asked what you thought of her statements and explained that she thought trans women were not really women. Without missing a beat, you exclaimed “well what else would they be? Aliens?!”
You have been by my side at many rallies and protests, speaking up for causes we believe in. You have a strong sense of justice and strive to correct injustice when you see it, trying to find solutions for the world’s problems.
You are fiercely loyal to family and friends; you have been a doting big brother to Lu since the day she was born; you insisted on taking her in for Show and Tell in nursery school, begging Miss Arla and Miss Randi until they gave in. While you patiently played Minnie Mouse and dolls, and chivalrously offer her your coat when she is cold, you have also taken it upon yourself to make sure she has realistic expectations of the world. I overheard you in the backseat at about 6 years old explaining to her that despite the nickname we use, she is not ACTUALLY a princess. I interjected that you never knew – maybe she would grow up and marry a prince. Barely disguising the contempt in your voice, you asked me “and WHERE is she going to find one of those?” To this day, you will read her bedtime stories, help her with homework, and are ready to back her up whenever she needs, even to the point of standing up to me or Grammy Boo.
You are a true Hufflepuff at heart, but as an avid reader, Harry Potter is not the only story you love – I remember you listening to The Moth with me in the car, from 4 years old. While we have some family favorites, you were invested in all of them, even ones that I would not have imagined would have resonated with you. I remember you specifically requesting one about a bride’s quest for her perfect wedding dress to be repeated. We had the opportunity to pause many of those stories and discuss the mature topics and themes behind them, and I know that you embrace empathy as a core part of your being. It is fitting that your portion is about seeing kindness in the world because you put so much into it. I hope that you also have been able to absorb a few other lessons:
1) You do your best with the knowledge you currently have. Sometimes we would go back and adjust decisions or actions with the benefit of hindsight, and changing your mind is not a bad thing.
2) Tell the people that you care about that you care about them. While we were planning today, I spent some time being sad about the people who are unable to attend for one reason or another. I want you to be surrounded by the people who love you, and selfishly, I want to share with everyone *I* love. I am choosing today to be grateful for the many, many people in our lives who ARE here and celebrating you today, AND those who are sending their love from farther away.
and finally, Tomorrow is another day, so today doesn’t need to be perfect. You and I both struggle with this to an extent. Sometimes you see so much of the bigger picture that you freeze and are unable to take the first step. Make your lists, Bunny Rabbit, and take one step at a time. I know you have put in a lot of hard work to get to today, and I am so proud of you for taking all of those steps on the way. Mazel Tov. Mitzvah Managed.
A huge Bar Mitzvah party would be Cole’s absolute worst nightmare, so we had a simple brunch in the social hall. I am Italian and Jewish so my WHOLE instinct in party planning is to Feed The People. I had a literal nightmare earlier in the week that we would not have enough food so I called and adjusted our order – I *wildly* overcorrected. I could have fed triple the number of guests and still had leftovers.
S’mores in the Sukkah
Sukkot is one of my very favorite holidays and we love having people over to our sukkah, so we had a smaller gathering of friends with kids in the afternoon – s’mores and sparklers and sukkah crafts, plus even more food.
See you in 2025 for Lulu!