Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Speech

M, I could go on and on about the myriad ways in which you are wonderful, and I know you would like that. But I want, instead, to focus my remarks on one aspect of your wonderfulness, an aspect that is particularly relevant today, and that is your relation to Judaism.

Despite appearances to the contrary, M has not spent her entire life cosseted in the warm embrace of Temple and the East Town Kibbutz. In fact, from the day after she learned to walk, until the month after her ninth birthday, we lived in suburban No Longer Red State, where M was the only Jewish child in her elementary school, the nearest synagogue was half an hour away, and she was, I regret to inform you, a Hebrew school dropout.

Despite these challenging circumstances, from a very early age, M had a remarkably strong Jewish identity. She never complained about not celebrating Christmas, but instead loved having me come to her class to teach the other children about Hanukkah. Whenever people asked if she was excited for the Easter Bunny, she proudly announced that she was Jewish. By her own choice, she kept kosher for Passover and started to fast on Yom Kippur. And, by necessity, embracing her Judaism was part of her everyday life as well.

So why was this? Part of it, M, is surely your incredible self-confidence. You are who you are, you’re not afraid of anyone, and you won’t stand down--this is a remarkable trait in anyone, but especially in someone your age, and it makes me so very proud of you. But I think there’s more to the Jewish piece. I believe that your Jewish identity is integrally connected to the core of who you are.

M’s love of reading is legend, and her Grammy has been supplying her with Jewish reading since she could chew on her first Noah board book. When Mindy Saved Hanukkah, Sammy Spider’s First Everything, All of a Kind Family…even if she didn’t live in a Jewish community, books gave her a sense of Jewish history and a Jewish world, just as reading has expanded her horizons in so many directions.

Although No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb is about as far as you can get from the Lower East Side tenements where Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie grew up, we did have a small, but caring Jewish community there. M, I don’t know if you remember A and L, but they were the main big girls in your life in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb. You adored them, and they were so kind to you--L even let you sit next to her at her bat mitzvah. I see that kindness coming around again in your own kindness to younger children--to E F-F, and C and G, and Little M and J, and Cousin L, and sometimes even your own sister.

Two other significant people in your life in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb were our next-door neighbors, whom you adopted as your local grandparents. They lead me back to East Coast Big City, where your own grandparents lived, because another crucial element in the consolidation of your Jewish identity has been your deep connection to your family, and especially to your grandparents and your great-aunt M in Israel. You cherish your family, and they in turn cherish you.

We eventually left No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb and found ourselves back in Town, and at Temple, and here you have flourished. Your love of reading, thinking, and learning have been stimulated by your classes on Israel, ethics, and the Holocaust. Your gift for friendship is visible across this very room. You have become even closer to your family, as you get to see your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins so much more frequently.

Here, too, you have become deeply committed to tzedakah: to social justice and to helping others. Whether you are marching for peace with your grandmother, or insisting that we walk the entire 20 miles of the Walk for Hunger, or helping backstage with the play at E's school--which is what M spent this week doing, even though her bat mitzvah was fast approaching--you are always looking for opportunities to help and to make the world a better place.

When you were born, M, your great-aunt M sent us a fax, in which she wrote, “May you succeed to raise her to Torah, Chuppah, and good deeds”; “l’torah, l’chuppah, u l’maasim tovim”; a life of learning, loving, and giving. I don’t know if Sam and I tried, purposefully, to follow her wishes, but they certainly track our deepest values, and as I look at you today, I see learning, loving, and giving at the heart of who you are, and who I know you will be, and I am so very proud.

The final thing I want to say to you, M, is Thank you. Thank you for being such a wonderful person in all the myriad ways you are wonderful. Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all. And thank you for being my daughter. I love you forever and for always.


Jenny Davidson said...

Good speech!

Dawn said...

Wow -- that's beautiful! And it's giving me total bar mitzvah stagefright because I didn't know people gave speeches and stuff and I am a floundering Jew anyway.

Maybe I can just take this one and put "Noah" where you put "M"? No, probably not!!

Libby said...

Lovely! I'm suddenly wishing to be a part of a tradition where I could give a speech like that! (Though my own tradition has so embraced my kids that I also find myself nodding my head in agreement throughout.)

kathy said...

So wonderful that you published this--and lovely to hear the words again!

addy said...

I've been hearing your phrase, "cosseted in the warm embrace" since Saturday! It's really stayed with me. I thought of it when I was going into Target today, contemplating buying a house in my hometown, thinking how nice it is to be cosseted (not by Target, of course, by my hometown and family-just to clarify. Target actually has nothing to do with this post whatsoever, although I do like to shop there from time to time).

postacademic said...

and thank you for posting this. It brings good tears to my eyes!