Shotgun Bat Mitzvah

Tags: Judaism, Jewish Identity, Youth, History, Holidays

By Emily Rogal

Hi there. My name's Emily and this is the story of my Bat Mitzvah.

I know that it's probably considered really weird to introduce yourself at the beginning of a Bat Mitzvah service, but it would be equally weird for those of you who don't know me to sit idly by in confusion while some random girl becomes a Jewish woman or whatever.

First, let me say, that this was not a typical Bat Mitzvah service. Firstly, I had a lack of Justin Bieber apparel, I am not thirteen years old, and we were at a BBYO convention, which isn't your typical venue for a Bat Mitzvah service.

But anyway, as I was saying, my name is Emily. I'm a senior and I've been in BBYO for coming up on about three years now. Three years ago, however, I moved to Maryland from a small town in Michigan where seeing a Jew was about as common as seeing a unicorn prance down main street. My dad is Catholic and my mom was raised Jewish. My younger sister and I (hey, Liv) were raised as both, but when people would ask us what we were, I would always answer, "confused."

I attended Catechism and Hebrew school. While the majority of our hometown was Catholic or some variation, my mom would haul my sister and I out to a synagogue about forty-five minutes away just to get a dose of Judaism. On Monday nights we would listen to our teachers talk about all the good Jesus had done and learn how to say the rosary. On Sunday, we would round out the week with discussions about Noah and his Ark while eating a bagel.

I remember once at Catechism, the teacher asked us all to share our favorite prayers. One girl shared the Hail Mary, another boy recited Our Father. When it came to my turn, I proudly recited the prayer that we say over the candles on Hanukkah. After a moment of silence, the first girl began crying because she thought I was a witch. Oddly enough, this is a reaction I've inspired in many people, most of which haven't even been when I was speaking Hebrew.

After that, my relationship with religion pretty much sizzled out. As the token Jew in my school, I literally had to tell the story of Hanukkah every year while my mom made the same store bought matzo ball soup every year, from kindergarten to ninth grade, to the same kids who sat there with the same vacant expression. Here's something I've noticed: when kids don't understand something, they love to make fun of it.

Needless to say, my Judaism was one factor that loved to get teased and harangued.

So I asked myself: "Why do this?"

I had no ties to Judaism. I had gotten tired of driving so far to listen to some lady tell me about customs that none of my friends partook in and speak in a language that made no sense and sounded a little bit like someone who had a serious phlegm problem.

All of that changed when my mom tricked me into going up to the BBYO offices when we first moved here. What was supposed to be just a social "thing" (also a chance for me to get out of the house and stop watching massive amounts of Degrassi to actually interact with real humans) turned into something that was so much bigger than that.

For the first time, I was celebrating Havdallah.
I learned about Israel and it's importance to the Jewish faith, and I proudly became a Virtual Citizen of Israel™). I actually had the Jewish holidays off for school! This rocked!

But there was nothing that was of substance to me, there was no cosmic moment where a pop up appeared on my screen that said
"Congrats on being our 1,000,000th user. You are now a Jew!"

It was a quiet sort of thing where I suddenly found myself at a Barnes and Noble buying "Judaism for Dummies" so that I would feel up-to-par with the rest of the girls in my chapter, or how I would suddenly find myself easily following along with prayers I had never heard before. Or how I would throw out Hebrew words into casual speech, much to the surprise of my family, like "Beth Kadima" and "n'siah" and "CLTC."

Before I could even say "I accept the honor and the nomination," I was somehow inducted into the intergalactic order of Jews (established in year 0).

But, while it's been great, to me I feel a little bit like someone driving without a license. I think that that's the main reason why I decided to get my Bat Mitzvah. Plenty of people don't have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, and plenty of people also opt-out of getting their license.

It's a matter of choice - do you want to be identified for the rest of your life as a Jew (or a driver, in the latter case)?

I've spent the majority of my life so far treating Judaism with a nonchalant attitude, but just a little while ago, I decided that I was going to take the driver's seat, if you will, and learn about Judaism…and literally as well, I got my permit!

There's a reason why we called this my shotgun Bat Mitzvah. I mean, the time that it took to pull this together was astonishing. Because of this, I didn't really have the time to learn how to read the Torah, so in my honor, three of my friends who had a better command of the Hebrew language, helped me out with the Torah portions.

Like I've said before, this wasn't the most traditional of Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. But for those of you who know me, you know that I'm not the most traditional of people. I know that there are several of you out there who probably haven't had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah yet, either. I seriously urge you to find an opportunity to partake in your own "shotgun ceremony," whatever that means to you.

Unlike driving, I think that there are a plethora of easier ways to obtain your Judaism.

I was seventeen when I got my permit (the driving kind), and here I am, eighteen years old and partaking in a ceremony that usually happens when you turn thirteen.

And the best part about this one? You don't even have to parallel park!

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Tags: Judaism, Jewish Identity, Youth, History, Holidays