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Jewish Military Mom’s Message to her Daughter at her Bat Mitzvah

I am a career military officer and a Jewish mom. One of the biggest challenges I have faced in balancing those two identities was moving from New York to Virginia, on military orders, when my daughter was 12 years old. We had been very at home with our synagogue in upstate New York and had hoped to remain in one place through my daughter’s bat mitzvah. While the move was very positive from a professional standpoint, the timing was not ideal from a personal perspective. Yet we packed up and moved and, as we had done multiple times before, started shul shopping—lucky that our new Virginia home was in a location that boasted several synagogues. I was also fortunate to join a local chapter of the Jewish War Veterans. Their candid assessments of the synagogues in the area helped us choose the right fit for our family’s needs: not so large that every Shabbat had been scheduled for b’nei mitvot for the next four years but not so small that my daughter would not have a vibrant peer group. Ironically, when we visited the synagogue office we chose to join to seek membership, enroll in religious school, and most importantly, lock in a bat mitzvah date, the first date available was Veteran’s Day weekend, a few months after my daughter’s thirteenth birthday. The universe was sending us a message.

A short year later, after all the preparation, planning, and rehearsals were complete, I stood on the bima in my dress uniform as a servicemember, and as the mom of the bat mitvah, to light the Shabbat candles at the Friday evening service held in honor of the Jewish War Veterans. The next day, my daughter read her Torah portion from Chayei Sarah (Death of Sarah), focusing on Rebecca’s kindness to Abraham’s servant at the well. These are the words I shared with my daughter, our friends and family, and our community during her Torah service:

Your Jewish journey began when you had just turned four. We set foot in a synagogue for the very first time for a Friday evening Shabbat service. You loved the music and the atmosphere so much that you insisted on standing in the aisle and dancing. You brought so much joy to that service and the congregation. I knew we had found our people; we had found our home.

You have taken ballet and dancing classes since you were a toddler with no rhythm (which has improved) and a love of tutus and frilly costumes (which has remained constant). Dance has been a large part of your life, taken up a lot of your time, and demanded your dedication.

But more importantly, you have also danced your way into people’s hearts with your kindness, empathy, and willingness to make new friends and include others.  As much as you have embraced dancing, you have also embraced Jewish values and Jewish community. (And to be candid, the sheer number of Jewish holidays were a big selling point when you were four, just like the tutus.)

Life is a state of continuous change: for you, that fact is especially relevant. You have shown such grace in adapting to each new environment: 6 duty stations, a year with another family while I deployed, summers away from home; 6 schools; 8 dance academies—and many friends made. Although you may have lost some friends along the way, you have also gained resilience, independence, and a degree of poise, not to mention those mad make-up skills and sense of style, that seem uncommon in someone your age. You are sometimes fearful of the unknown, of the next step, but you are learning that courage is being afraid and taking that next step anyway.

We are so proud of the young woman, the mensch, who you are becoming and whom we would like you to be. We are so proud of you for choosing to become a bat mitzvah by reading the Torah before your community and proclaiming your Jewish faith and identity. Most importantly, we, at this moment, are so proud to be your parents. We love you, sweet pea.

Dear God, bless our daughter, Shoshana, as she embarks upon membership in the Jewish community. May her love of learning continue throughout her lifetime. May she be guided by the wisdom of the Torah even as she finds her own way and comes into her power as a woman of valor. May her understanding of the history of the Jewish people lead her to a life of service and tikkun olam, repair of the world. May she continue to show the determination of Rebecca as a leader, a follower, and an advocate for others. May she live with an open mind and love with a full heart.

We thank You, God, for Shoshana’s enriching, and sometimes enervating, presence in our lives. We are more compassionate human beings for having raised her and faced life’s challenges together as a family. May the weight of our expectations not fall on her shoulders but form the foundation under her feet.

May the God of our people, the Sovereign of the Universe bless her. May the One who has always been our guide inspire her to bring honor to our family and to our people Israel. Baruch atah Hashem, Elokeinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, vi’kiyamanu, v’higianu, lazman hazeh.

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About the author

Naomi Mercer

Naomi Mercer is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and an independent scholar. She earned her doctorate in literary studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. She specializes in feminist dystopian and utopian writing and is the author of Toward Utopia which explores feminist science-fiction writers’ responses to religious fundamentalism. She lives with her spouse, daughter, and two cats in Northern Virginia.

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