By Jessica Lubka
I’ve always had a hard time remembering; what I ate for breakfast, what my mom told me to do before leaving the house, even my own father’s birthday. In my eyes, my brain got knocked around too hard when the TV fell on me at the age of four, so I can’t remember much from ages 1-3. If you ask my mom, it’s because I drink too much in college.
Regardless of the reason behind my faulty memory, it’s a fact of life. Clearly the first thing I memorized is not going to be a lullaby I heard when I was two, or a sing-a-long from my favorite movie when I was three. Rather, the first thing I memorized in its entirety was the Torah portion I recited at my bat mitzvah.
A couple of things about my bat mitzvah: First, contrary to popular belief I did not wake up a fully grown woman on April 12, 2008, the day of my bat mitzvah. Second, studying for this day was the most studying I have ever done. College exams are way easier than memorizing a sacred text written in Hebrew. Take a public speaking class, add 70 more people, read your speech in Hebrew, while the professor is standing next to you and then tell me how much fun it is to be Jewish.
Memorization is a process. It’s reading, re-reading, reciting, re-reading, reciting again, and finally feeling confident enough to do the whole thing without the comfort of having the paper in front of you. Now, you may be thinking ‘don’t you read out of the Torah when you recite your Torah portion?’ Yes, you are supposed to stare at the scroll and read word for word what you are chanting. But at the naïve, prepubescent age of 13, I thought I could outsmart the holiest of the holy. For I was a strong, independent, metal-mouth and I could memorize the entire portion. No safety net required. This may sound like ambition, but it was full-on stupidity.
Soon enough, it was me, a tape player, and a recording of Rabbi Sowalsky, passing through my eardrums each night. Rewinding, fast forwarding, stopping and playing. The motions were second nature by the time April rolled around. I began studying for my bat mitzvah in January. Three months of one-on-one meetings with the rabbi, singing lessons with the cantor, and Friday nights spent home practicing. The words danced through my dreams as a slept at night and formed in my ABC cereal as I ate my breakfast.
Every so often I’ll crack jokes about being Jewish or I’ll have someone ask me to say my “bat mitzvah thingy,” and every time I recite Acharei Mot (my Torah portion) I am overwhelmed with pride. I remember the tears rolling down my dad’s cheek when I said the closing lines. The damp trail it left behind as he wiped his eyes, and the impression it left on me, for that was the first time I had ever seen him cry. I can still see my mom, dressed in her Salvatore Farragamo dress, showing all 32 teeth as I rolled the Torah up. Perhaps most vividly, I remember my Holocaust survivor grandmother touching her Siddur to the Torah as her youngest grandchild became a woman.
Having the ability to still recite my Torah portion reminds me of why this ceremony is so important. Having a bat mitzvah is not like getting your teeth pulled out. It is not something that happens and it is done. Becoming a woman in this Jewish tradition is more than a big party and presents; it’s being recognized, from that day forward, as an adult among your peers. It was the first time I had accomplished something more than winning a medal in soccer or getting an A on a school paper. This sense of accomplishment and adulthood doesn’t happen often. I can imagine I’ll feel the same sense of accomplishment when I graduate from college and land my first job. I’ll see that tear return to my father’s cheek and I’ll see all 32 of my mother’s teeth.
While I may not remember if I turned the oven off in my apartment, I’ll always remember Acharei Mot – the Torah portion that pushed me into womanhood.
Jessica Lubka grew up in Simsbury. She is currently a senior at the University of Connecticut, majoring in communications.
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CAP: Jessica Lubka and her grandmother, Sophie Lubka.