I used to wonder why people got so carried away by their grandkids. Now I’m one of them.
Burton and I are blessed to have 6 grandchildren. The oldest, Alexis, just had her Bat Mitzvah. In case you don’t know the word kvell, Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “feel happy and proud.” Alexis’ Bat Mitzvah propelled it to a new level.
I must objectively state: Alexis is a mensch. Sweet, smart, loving, fair, funny, generous and capable. This is the girl who, at 12, created a spread sheet and figured out the details of our summer family Olympics. That meant which t-shirt in which color and which size went to which member of 2 teams of 12 each. (I was looking for sweatshirts. Alexis said, “T-shirts are cheaper.”) And which team member should play volley ball and which shoot hoops. I was frazzled by the logistics; Alexis, cool. This year, when it came time for the shuffle board competition, Alexis strode over to me with a pep talk. “You’ve got this, Gigi,” she said. (P.S., I didn’t.)
Bat Mitzvahs at Temple Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL, aren’t part of a larger service. They are the service, entirely performed by the celebrant. Rabbi Steve Lowenstein and Cantor Andrea Markowicz create a sense of warmth and informality. (The rabbi’s talit, or prayer shawl, is made from a maize and blue U of M t-shirt. Perfect for Andy’s family as he and Amy are U of M grads and have indoctrinated their daughters to Go Blue!)
I knew Alexis would be poised and competent. I didn’t realize how grown up she’d look in high heels, cloaked in her great grandfather’s prayer shawl. Nor did I realize how verklempt (Yiddish for emotional) I’d be. Surviving stage 4 cancer and living 13 years to be present for this milestone? Wow.
Through blurry eyes I managed to read the opening blessing. After, the rabbi asked what I‘d like to say to Alexis. Instead of uttering something matriarchal or profound, I could only croak: “You knock me out, girlfriend.”
Nor was my emotional state helpful when it came time for Alexis’ grandparents, Carol, Bob, Burton and me, to sing 2 Hebrew blessings. I was the only one who could carry a tune… sort of. Ahead of time, Burton had practiced for hours. I learned Bob had, too. We must not have sounded too melodious because the rabbi chimed in.
Alexis read fluently from the Torah, using a left handed yad (pointer) to follow the Hebrew. Her Torah portion, toward the end of Deuteronomy, discusses how God punishes Moses for losing his temper by forbidding him to enter the Promised Land. Alexis drew a meaningful lesson from it. She said, “It’s important to listen to one another. If Moses had listened to God, God would have built trust in Moses. I believe listening and trust can go hand in hand because listening leads to trust.”
Alexis excels at soccer and basketball. She said, “If a coach is teaching a play, it’s necessary that all players hear and understand because one person can mess up an entire play… We should all realize that listening to one another will help the world become a better place.”
A Bar (for boys) or Bat (for girls) Mitzvah calls for the celebrant, who’s turning 13, to do a good deed (mitzvah) for others. This past summer Alexis volunteered at a non-profit, ministry-run restaurant. The Front Porch is in Ellsworth, near Charlevoix in northern Michigan, where our family spends much of the summer. The Front Porch, staffed mainly by volunteers, has done wonders for the community.
Alexis spoke about her Mitzvah project. “Ellsworth is a small farming town where many families are struggling financially and cannot afford things like eating at a restaurant. The Front Porch is a miraculous place as it is a pay-what-you-can restaurant. If you cannot afford to pay, you simply put the bill in an envelope and leave. No one will ever know you could not afford your meal and you can enjoy the restaurant experience with dignity.”
Alexis bussed tables, cleaned booths, rolled silverware into napkins and took orders. (One day Grandpa Burt rolled napkins with her.) About the experience, she said, “I was able to really help a place I had gone to since I was little in a community I love. I never realized how special a place this was and how much charity work went on behind the scenes.”
Alexis thanked the members of our family for the roles we play in her life. Sisters Camryn and Lindsay “for being there for me and making sure we stick together. “ Dad Andy: “Shooting hoops, fishing, playing cards–you are always up for family time.” Mom Amy: “Running together and waterskiing… You give the best advice.” (Ed note: Remember that, Alexis, as you grow into adolescence.)
Well done, Alexis!
As your mom said in her remarks, “You are good to the core… Your smile lights up an entire room.” Everyone you meet knows how special you are. Thanks for teaching Grandpa and me the true meaning of kvell.
Keep on knocking us out, girlfriend.