Our son was called to the Torah for his bar mitzvah ceremony just weeks after the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburg. In the wake of that horror, we had to step back and decide what we did and didn’t want to do for his ceremony. We opted to continue as planned, although with a guard at the door. That event weighed heavily on my mind as I wrote this speech for his ceremony.
Your Torah parsha includes the line, “May the Lrd watch between you and me when we are apart from each other.” Your secular names and Hebrew name are in honor of your great great grandfathers. You are apart from them. They were dead long before you were born; yet you only exist because they did. You are a part of them. During your bar mitzvah ceremony, we’ll say kiddush using the kiddush cup your great great grandfather took with him when he escaped Nazi Germany. We chanted the prayers as we raised this glass filled with wine at all the family baby namings and your sisters’ b’not mitzvah. Today it’s your turn to continue the tradition. You say the same prayers and perform the same rituals as your ancestors. We tell you stories about family. We show you pictures of those who came before us. All of this is our way of connecting you to your heritage and your family. It’s one way we help G-d watch between you and the family you’re separated from.
I made this tallit (prayer shawl) from your baby sling. After you were born, a friend made this sling just for you. I had old ones from when your big sisters were babies, but I wanted this to be something just for you, not yet another hand-me-down. When I made this tallit for you, I tied the tzitzit (strings in the 4 corners of the garment that have to be tied a very specific way) and you picked the colors for the corners. I wanted to make sure this tallit was uniquely yours.
When you were a baby, I carried you in your sling to keep you close. It kept you near me and helped us meet your needs. You were never alone. In your sling, you were safe.
Now you tower over me. You are growing up and becoming an adult in a world that can be horrifying at times. I can’t carry you in a sling anymore. We can’t guarantee we can keep you safe. Your father and I can do everything in our power to make you safe for the world and make the world safe for you. We can trust in G-d. We can raise you in a family that loves Torah, justice, and our neighbors. But the outside world exists and it can be terrifying. Many of us are afraid, but we are here! We are here together in this synagogue and we are here for you.
When you were a baby, I held you in that sling to keep you close, to meet your needs, and to protect you. When you needed me, I was right there. Your tiny head covered in red curls peeked out at the outside world from the safety of this sling. You’re not that little chubby ginger baby anymore. Now that you’re growing up, you’re learning to find your way in the world. We gave you your names inspired by family, we gave you our traditions, we gave you our love and support, and today we give you this tallit in the hopes that you will always know you are never alone in your journey. G-d is with you. Those who have come before are always with you. Your family is with you. Your congregation is with you. Those who fight for justice are with you. Your friends are with you. Even when we’re not right alongside you, your father and I are with you. We love you and we believe in you.
Our dearest hope for you is that this tallit and all it represents will keep you safe. As Bubbe and her father took the family Kiddush cup on their journey, may you always take and treasure this tallit on your life’s journey. May you live life wrapped in tallit, in the arms of those who love you, in the fight for justice, in memories, in family, in Torah, and in love.