The New Rainbow of American Jews; my experience with the Israeli American

What can one offer as a bat mitzvah model as an Israeli American young girl of twelve that speaks to her at her modern Jewish day school experience? Below, I lay out what was developed and transpired this past Shabbat at such a young girl’s bat mitzvah. All of this plus more, while grappling with the unknowns of Covid 2020.

All pictures taken by me with permission.

The newest simha shoe worn by the bat mitzvah’s sister. Her shoe matches the theme of the Garden of Eden. The portable bimah, brought to the simhas by the Cantor.  Reminds me of the traveling mishkan in the desert. Grandpa and bat mitzvah renewing their bonds before the ceremony.Bat mitzvah receiving her tallis, handpicked for the ceremony.  practicing one last time to make sure that the microphones work representing the theme of the Garden of Eden my designated and separated chair, Covid 2020 even my pink mask blends in with the theme of the bat mitzvah  bottled water and hand sanitizer blend in as welleven the marshmallows, to be used to cast at the completion of her Torah reading, blend in  separate seating, within proper social distancing guidelines, due to Covid 2020 The bat mitzvah and me

An emerging new normal, an Israeli American twelve-year-old girl, whose parents are looking for another kind of modern-day bat mitzvah experience. Although most of their Israeli friends traditionally turn to Chabad, both in Israel and here, many are seeking other pathways for their children, including the girls. The parents are offering their children other prayer leadership opportunities and Torah initiatives and choices. Some parents are encouraging their children to lead the entire service if the child is up to it or capable. Some parents are offering their children to layn Torah, either from a Kosher Torah (or not, generally the Torah is Kosher and not pasul/ no longer Kosher), from three to several verses of Torah, memorizing the cantillation (musical notes)  and vowels,  or a hybrid of both. Some parents are offering to learn to layn as well and making this bat mitzvah ceremony a unique family celebration, demonstrating that this is a true family affair.

What did this family chose to do? The parents each offered to learn to layn three to four verses of Torah according to the Adler/ Polish-Lithuanian cantillation system used by many of the Reform and Conservative movement congregations and even those congregations that are unaffiliated. There were some slight variations and accommodations in the notes since some notes seemed to be designed for Cantors and not for us common folk with no or little voice training. (Lol).  (check out the article in Wikipedia on Hebrew cantillation for more information).  Their daughter learned to layn five verses for her portion. She also chose to learn how to lead the service, including the Torah service, the aliyah blessings, and Ashrei, and concluding Musaf prayers such as Eyn Keyloheynu, all sung in an Israeli accent. She also taught us the meaning of her bat mitzvah portion to her understanding for today’s twelve year old, adding in what her mitzvah project was all about. She chose to teach Seniors how to use Zoom on their computers. Much needed today to communicate, during Covid 2020.  Thus, this family has created a new model of Israeli American bat mitzvahs.

Not to discredit the Chabad movement in the least. Their unstoppable work is awe inspiring and overwhelming. As the Rebbe taught, “If you know an alef, teach an alef.” Since there are more and more Israelis who speak Hebrew but do not read and write the language due to the age when they arrived here, (I have met several who never learned how to read Hebrew but speak it fluently.) Chabad bravely embraced the challenge of teaching to the Israeli child where he was coming from, so to speak. If the child can only learn how to chant the Torah aliyah blessings, then so be it. Since there are so many pressures on the child adapting to the American culture, with the onset of Covid, it has made it that much more challenging. The child is taught what he or she can handle and absorb. What everyone has seen, it’s not about the performance, it’s about embracing the learning process. That’s what the Rebbe wanted. That’s what we all want for the child.

We are all Gd’s children, each one of us seeking out a path that speaks to each of us, as individuals and as an emerging and blending Israeli American Jewish community. As we balance and bob as the waves of Covid 2020 splash all around us, we have an alternative choice, thanks to our leaders, like the Cantors and Rabbis, who have embraced our newest blended members on the American Jewish scene.

There is no one way that works for all of us.

Proverbs 22:6

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

It’s our hope, prayer and goal, that our children will embrace our faith and not cast it aside.

Here’s yet another way to offer guidance and acceptance.

Mazel tov!

Rabbi Claire, the teddy bear Rabbi

Covid 2020

About the Author
Rabbi Claire conceived of the concept Bears from Bergenfield upon a routine check of the Israeli staff at camp SLC August of 2001. She realized that the world needed to wake up and become aware of the suffering the Israelis were enduring as the Palestinians continued their intifada against them. After 18 years and 195,000 teddy bears amassed and redistributed, Rabbi Claire is searching for more public platforms to proliferate and advance her message, that Jewish lives matter, especially with a teddy bear. Rabbi Claire lives in Bergen County with her husband of 38 years, Larry, and their 4 children, Sam, Shira, Seth, and Sarah Rose, plus their incoming son-in-law Ivan. For further information of how to get involved with this endearing project, contact her at
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