Could I bulletproof my daughter’s bat mitzvah?
This question rose like bile when a terrorist gunned down three people, including 18-year-old American Ezra Schwartz z”l, right at the infamous junction our guests would have to drive through to get to our party in a week’s time.
And it choked in my throat again when guests started to cancel: the dear cousins and friends afraid to drive the roads at night, the medical student who tutored our kids back in America whose parents implored her not come, the musician friend who was called to sing at a memorial for Ezra z”l because hundreds of yeshiva students needed the comfort his soulful music could provide that night.
It felt surreal to worry about the weather and to attempt to help my daughter write her speech while I simultaneously made inquiries about bulletproof vans after friends who came in from America were understandably concerned about their safety.
And then, just two days before the bat mitzvah, just when I thought I could keep it all together, just when I needed the seating chart and the phone number for the hairstylist so I could schedule the curls and braids and up-dos — our party planner is in a terrorist attack, her windshield shattered by a potentially lethal boulder, and she ends up in the hospital in shock.
And I was done. I went to my room to cry. I snapped at anyone in my path, especially my sweet, excited kids who wanted my attention for the party preparations and I was imploding trying to shield them from all this. And I couldn’t muster up the strength to help my daughter finish the speech she so desperately wanted to finish and practice until it was perfect.
I knew this bat mitzvah bash represented so much to my daughter, our middle child, the bookish one with the deep soul who worried when we made aliyah a year and a half ago that her bat mitzvah party might be friendless and not as special as her older sister’s American one. After all the changes, after moving them to this beautiful, battered country in the middle of a war, I needed to get this right for her, for all of us.
And I wondered again how I could bulletproof this simcha, this rite of passage, how I could inoculate my guests, my family and my kids from the terror and sadness.
And then I realized that maybe I just couldn’t. Just like I couldn’t control the weather, I couldn’t practically protect all my guests and I also couldn’t shield my kids from the reality of what was going on. So I hired some extra security for the party, found a quiet moment to work on the speeches, reshuffled the seating chart one last time and gently told my kids about what happened to our party planner. And I vowed again to find the joy in this special time for our family.
And tiny miracles happened.
The weather was perfect.
Our guests from America, including my daughter’s best friend and her family, still came and and it felt like the cavalry had arrived, that people who hadn’t been jaded by all this could breathe fresh joy into our celebration.
The army beefed up security in the area that worried me most, adding watchtowers and elite soldiers at every turn.
Our party planner turned out to be a fierce warrior and staring death in the face didn’t stop her from getting us our seating chart and place cards and coordinating it all so we could celebrate life.
And wonderful, brave friends and family decided to trust in G-d and His statistics as well as the soldiers wearing ski masks and automatic weapons and to show up. They came from America and Canada and from all over Israel to celebrate with us in a time when even a short journey can feel perilous.
On the way to the party, dressed in our sequins and lace and party finery, we all said silent prayers as we drove past the donkeys and vineyards and the weary junction still fresh with blood and tears, past bus stops where too many of our young people have been murdered or kidnapped, and up into the hills.
And 150 people chose to celebrate with us that night, and it was magical. The event hall looming high in the darkness of the Judean Hills glowed from the flickering candles in lace-wrapped mason jars and tiki torches while the lights of the town below twinkled. Our guests glided over the uneven cobblestone walkways and under the rich pine trees to come in and eat and dance and belly laugh. And my radiant middle daughter glittered in peach and gold as her new friends, celebrating the first bat mitzvah in their class, excitedly hoisted her up in the air and did the Macarena and made her feel like she truly belonged.
In my speech to her that night I said:
I know that we brought you here in challenging times and that even today as we celebrate, our people — now our neighbors and friends and us — wake up to news every day that is less than good. But you often learn the best lessons in times of challenge, to appreciate when things are normal and quiet and also that you can really know who people are when they face adversity…. And I hope you see that we must always laugh harder than we cry, dance more than we mourn, and love more than we can ever hate.”
I realized that we did bulletproof the bat mitzvah that night, that somehow the sparkly dresses and party shoes, the lush centerpieces and joyful hearts had all transformed into flak jackets against the sorrow and despair.
And when our party was winding down, some of our guests even went on to dance some more at another celebration just over the hills, the wedding of Ariel Biegel and Sarah Techiya Litman, freshly up from shiva, another light in the darkness, another simcha that bullets couldn’t stop.
The darker the enveloping darkness, the brighter these lights could shine.