The first moment I held you in my arms I looked into your huge blue eyes and inhaled the sweet, heady aroma that only newborn babies have. My first born. My daughter. You had tiny wisps of blond hair and arms that were forever reaching towards me. I dressed you up in the dozens of pink outfits that Grandma sent. I brought you with me everywhere. To shul. To my Masters program. To the gym. You taught me how to cross the bridge into motherhood gently with your dimpled smile and your sweet disposition. How truly blessed I was and am to have you as my firstborn child.
As you grew, I felt you watching me. From the toddler dress-up games you played in my shoes to the first grader who begged to help me cook. From the three-year-old who cradled dolls to the third grader who pushed her brother in his stroller. From the tiny whisperings of a four-year-old imitating my praying to the pure, authentic prayer of a sixth grader.
I've been wondering how to teach you to dance like a ballerina but fight like a tiger.
You have been watching me, and I have been watching you too. Trying to figure out how to teach you to be strong without giving up your sweet sensitivity. Wanting to show you how to be modest and ambitious at the same time. Wondering how to teach you to dance like a ballerina but fight like a tiger. How to make sure your every need is met without spoiling you. How to show you a happiness that doesn’t focus on “things” while still creating a home full of beauty and warmth. How to make you feel loved without feeling smothered.
This is the tightrope that we all walk as mothers. Trying to hide our flaws and give over our strengths. But there is no one who knows a mother as well as her daughter does. And that is why I trust that you know my failures and successes perhaps better than I do. But today on your bat mitzvah I want to give you some very special gifts that are close to my heart:
Your great grandmother grew up on the Lower East Side, following her own European bubby to shul each Shabbos. She drank in the last remains of Yiddish and the simple, fading faith of the shteibel. Your great grandmother fought for Shabbos in a generation that was focused on assimilating. She was the first woman in shul every Shabbos and Yom Tov, and she was the last woman to leave. With hair the color of fire and eyes the color of the sea, she was beautiful and elegant in her designer suits and lace white kerchief. But she knew how to fight when she needed to. She knew how to cry in front of her Shabbos candles and laugh a moment later when she gathered her grandchildren into her arms.
People always said that your great grandmother was tough. And she was. But she also had a heart of gold full of compassion for everyone around her. How she loved to play with you when you were a baby and carry you into shul like a diamond in her arms! I give to you on your bat mitzvah her love for Shabbos. Her passion for prayer. Her compassionate heart and her love of life. Her ability to laugh and to cry and to build. I give you her toughness too, so you know how to fight for what you believe in.
And now I want to give you another gift from your Grandma Joanie who buys you beautiful dresses and makes countless trips to Israel to be with you and your siblings. Many people don’t see beyond her title as a New York State Supreme Court Justice, but as her granddaughter you know the richness of her personality and the strengths behind her name.
Recently I watched Grandma on the bench during a case, and I was so proud of how she presided over the courtroom. With grace and honor. Like a true queen of our nation. And from the countless Shabbos dinners that she has hosted over the years, inviting people into her home who had never even heard of Shabbos before, you can see her warmth and her generosity. From her hundreds of friends you can glimpse her charisma and from her devotion to her children and grandchildren you can feel the power of her love. So on your bat mitzvah I give you her honor and grace. Her warmth and generosity. Her charisma, her devotion and her love.
And finally I give you my own gifts. The courage that it took for me to leave America when we made aliyah. The yearning that I have for prayer. The love that I have for the Jewish people. The ambition that I have to bring light to the world.
This week when we celebrate your bat mitzvah I bring you to the sunrise minyan of Rav and Rebbetzin Kanievsky. We leave at 5am for Bnei Brak. The last stars are fading as we enter the women’s section. And we pray beside each other, mother and daughter, in a strange shul in an unfamiliar city. And I cry. I cry for all the blessings in my life. And for all the dreams too. I cry for you, who I love so very much and for all the years that flew by since I first held you in my arms.
After shul we make our way to the Rebbetzin. She hugs you and kisses you when I tell her that you are a bat mitzvah girl. She blesses you and inscribes a booklet on prayer for you. Her warmth and her smile carry us home like a mother’s embrace.
So I give that to you too on your bat mitzvah. The blessing of living in Israel and being near such holy, giving women of our nation.
But most of all I give you my love. May you light up the world the way that you light up my life.
Aish.com joins the Jewish world in mourning the sudden passing of Rebbetzin Kanievsky on October 15, 2011.