On Saturday we wake up early and get ready quickly. We have a two hour drive to make it to The Villages by 9:30 AM for my Aunt Mimi's Bat Mitzvah. The sunrise over Tampa is a beautiful surprise, rising across the bay, silhouetting downtown Tampa. Its an easy drive across central Florida with an awful lot of traffic for so early on a Saturday morning. Maybe it's spring break and everyone is going to Disney World? We don't know.
Lee is impressed by the thought of my 77 year old aunt doing what both of our children did when they turned thirteen. Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is no small task. You have to learn to read and pronounce Hebrew. You have to learn to chant the Torah. You have to write and deliver a short sermon. It took both of our children about a year to prepare, and that was after several years of Hebrew lessons. But I reassure him. Oh, I say, don't worry, she won't be doing this all by herself. When older women decide to become a Bat Mitzvah they do this with a group. There will probably be four or five other women that will do the ceremony together. She won't be all alone up there.
When we arrive at the temple the place is jam packed. People are parking on the lawn and the sanctuary is full to the brim. There are not five women becoming Bat Mitzvah today, there are FOURTEEN women going through the ceremony. With all their family and friends in attendance there are easily 500 people there to cheer them on.
A Jewish Saturday morning service tends toward being fairly long, and a bar or bat mitzvah always makes them longer. When people share a date they split up the Torah portion, but each each lady still gets to do their own mini-sermon.
The little sermons are so interesting.....the ladies come from such varied backgrounds, and their reasons for becoming a bat mitzvah now are as varied as their stories. There is the woman whose parents ran from the gestapo to Quito Ecuador and didn't even find out that she was Jewish until they moved to the United States when she was 10 years old. There were many women that were raised in Orthodox or Conservative homes and were never given the opportunity to become bat mitzvah when they were 13. Several of the women were raised in non-religious homes. My aunt hated Hebrew school as a kid and adamantly told her father she was not going to do it. As an Orthodox girl she wouldn't have been allowed to do a Bat Mitzvah anyway, so what did it matter?
Each woman chants the Torah a bit differently. Some chant faster, some are slower. Some have nice voices (my aunt's voice is lovely) others not so much. Some can only read and not manage the chanting, but they all get through their portion. Then it is time to do the haftorah, which is a commentary on the Torah portion they have just read. They all chant the haftorah together, thank God, because by the time the service is over 4 hours have passed.
We visit with my cousins in the sunshine outside the temple while the sanctuary is set up for lunch. Most of my aunt's children and grandchildren are there, plus several of her nieces and nephews. We have a conversation with some friends of theirs. They explain to us about the different categories of Floridians. A snowbird is someone who spends most of the winter in Florida, or some warmer climate. A snowflake is someone that spends a month of the winter down south. A frog is someone that lives in the Villages until they croak! I guess this means we are snowflakes.
It's almost 2 pm by the time lunch is ready. Starving Jews decend upon the buffet like a group of Chinese shoppers at a Le Sport Sac sale. Bagels, cream cheese, lox, kugel, salad, challah, hummus, tabouli. The food is delicious and there is plenty, so no one leaves hungry. There is time for family pictures and lots of hugs before it is time for us to drive back to Safety Harbor in more Florida traffic. It was so wonderful to see my Aunt Mimi beaming with pride and happiness. I'm so glad we could be there for her on this very special day.
The people living in The Villages really love it. It's not for us however, at least not yet. I like the small town walkable atmosphere of Safety Harbor. There are plenty of oldish people like us around and plenty of things to do. Lee jokes to Sarah and Erik upon our return that if someone ever asks you to go to an older woman's bat mitzvah, run! But really except for the length it was great.
We take lots of dog walks when we get back to Safety Harbor; we're just not used to so much sitting, first in the car and then at the ceremony. The dogs are happy to see us and I think Sarah and Erik are too. Its been quite a day!