On March 8, just as Americans were realizing the dangers of the pandemic and before residents of New Jersey stopped meeting in person entirely, a wonderful young woman at my synagogue was slated to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah. You can imagine the family’s disappointment! After this child’s years of preparation in Hebrew School and many months of focused practice for the weekly Torah portion, Ki Tissa, no guests would fly in. Most local relatives and friends would not attend. Few people would hear the speech she had worked so hard to write, and the party would have to be postponed. On top of that, I, her rabbi, had a bad case of the flu (or perhaps Coronavirus) and could not risk infecting others by attending. So, the Cantor officiated alone in the presence of a greatly reduced number of guests. I normally speak from notes, but I wrote the following blessing out in full for the Cantor to read aloud. Reviewing these words now, I believe they still apply to the disruptions of the pandemic – and for people of all ages. I hope that we can all be as brave, flexible, and grateful as Nina Hertzberg was at age thirteen. – Debra Orenstein
I have a wise (and, the Cantor also lovingly adds, “crazy”) Uncle Sol. One of my Dod Sol’s favorite sayings is: “When you get old enough, you realize that most of life is actually Plan B.”
Nina, that is the story of your Torah portion – and, in some ways, that is the story of your very special Bat Mitzvah day.
Moses was supposed to deliver the first set of tablets. But he smashed them. And so... back up to the top of the mountain he went. Afterwards, two sets of tablets were carried in the ark – the whole and the broken. Plan B was the new, unbroken pair of stones chiseled by Moses’ hand. They were carried in the same ark with the remnants of stones carved entirely by God. Plan A was smashed to smithereens – but still worth remembering and carrying forward.
The people not sinning was Plan A. God forgiving them was Plan B. Plan A is always preferable. But we NEED plan B. We would be lost without it.
There was a Plan A for this Bat Mitzvah. I was supposed to be here. More guests were supposed to have arrived. But Coronavirus came – and we got Plan B. I don’t know ALL the ways that Plan B will turn out to be good and holy. But I have a few guesses.
I think Plan B is profound because it makes us all realize and take in the truth of your words: that it is a real MIRACLE to be together. You appreciated that miracle even when it was commonplace – even when it was not under threat due to the virus. That’s why you included it in your speech. Now, neither you nor anyone who hears or reads your speech can ever take for granted the miracle of being together.
As you look back over this Bat Mitzvah, I think you will see Plan B as a source of resilience and strength. I think you will see it as confirmation, deep in your bones, that what matters most is WHO YOU ARE WHEN YOU SHOW UP – and not who is able to be there, to witness you.
You and your family have faced the disappointment of losing the option of Plan A with extreme grace. And that, I hope, will not only enable you to embrace THIS Plan B with a great attitude, but to face every plan that follows – A, B, C, or beyond – with that kind of grace. This will bring you SO much more joy and hope in life than trying to control the universe, so that you always end up with Plan A.
Nina, you have important witnesses with you today – you have family and the Cantor and friends and community members. If ALL the support you had in life were limited just to the people now in the room with you, we would have to say, Dayenu, that would be enough – because you are so loved. Of course, you have a great network of support from many people who are with you in spirit – including me. And you have God’s love and support.
I want to close with some of the wisest words I have heard lately, and they don’t come from my Uncle Sol. I think you will recognize them (1): “I have come to a realization that being in the same room at the same time is amazing. There are about 7.53 billion people on our earth, and we get to share this moment together.”