Saturday, February 13, 2021

Max's Bar Mitzvah - Part 1

I believe this is my SIL Allison's TV screen, watching from San Francisco

What a difference four years makes! When I posted about Hannah's bat mitzvah, four years ago to the weekend, it was also just after Trump's inauguration, and the women's marches, and everything felt scary, and incongruous to be celebrating. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and after the Capitol insurrection, it's scary still, but the Biden inauguration brings hope for a return to normalcy. In the days since Max's bar mitzvah, I can at least say I feel better about things than I did after Hannah's. 

And in that way, Max's bar mitzvah felt like a ray of light in an otherwise dark time. He led a lot of the service, which of course was virtual, with our family and friends watching online, the clergy in the sanctuary, and the four of us in the chapel. He chanted Torah and Haftorah perfectly, thanks to Marc's efforts in tutoring him, but also because Max brought such an unusual level of confidence to what he was doing. I've never seen a 13yo boy exude more presence on the bimah, and he commanded his performance. Max spoke about "kotzer ruach" which the Torah describes as a shortness of breath that the Hebrews experienced while in Egypt, due to their slavery. He translated it into our modern times, where COVID-19 is a shortness of breath, and so many other atrocities in 2020 took our breath away too. But Max then encouraged us to think of the times when we've had a shortness of breath from the positive things in our life, like he has had while singing and dancing at camp. He reminded us to maintain hope that even in these challenging times when it can be hard to breathe, there are still good times to be found ahead. 

That's what the entire day felt like it was about for me. As the pandemic settled in during those early months, we still thought there was hope for the day we'd been expecting to have, that by January we'd be able to travel, or at least host our friends, something, anything. Having gone through Hannah's experience, I knew I had vendors in place that I liked, and I also knew I could scramble during those last six months or so and still get everything into place. I waited as long as I could, until the fact that everything would remain virtual was undeniable. And so we pivoted. We threw the best damn Zoom party we could, and we honored the people in Max's life, and we celebrated reaching this day in our family.

It does not go without saying that I missed my mom so much, and still can't believe she didn't see this day. 

I will share more about what we did when I get the rest of our photos back - yes, we still took photos, which is one of the most important aspects of the whole thing for me, and I can't wait to see them. For now I'll close as I did with Hannah's post, but the pandemic-modified version. While Hannah and I had a "bat mitzvah high-five" for each task accomplished, Max and I had a "bar mitzvah elbow" instead. I told you four years changes a lot.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021


Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning seventeen.

So much of this past year wasn't what we wanted it to be, and it hurts a bit to re-read last year's letter and all the promise it held. There were many hard lessons this year, most of which I could not have anticipated. It was the year you attended four funerals that you will never forget. It was the year your shows and Kerem summer were cancelled. A year of tremendous heartbreak, and coping with the unknown. So much change and adaptation. I hope years from now, you can look back and realize just how strong and resilient you were.

Because change and adapt is what you did. You made the absolute best you could out of remote learning, staying dedicated to your classes and activities. You were the lead in Sense and Sensibility and worked harder than you've ever worked in a show. You led high holiday services over Zoom in a seriously impressive fashion. You took your first college course and blew me away with your architectural designs. You're driving cars, but you're also driven, taking on SATs and thinking about college and what you want from your life.

Even with nowhere really to go, you've kept your cell phone charged all year long. You make your bed every day, and keep your bullet journal and to do lists done. Thank you for being my television buddy, for finally seeing what I see in the Real Housewives, and for loving Jagged Little Pill as much as I do. Your friendships have continued to deepen and expand as you all faced these challenging times together, learning to give each other more grace along the way. Your brother may be taller than you now, but there's no one he leans on more than you. And I'm glad you still find Shira as endlessly entertaining as I do.

So little seems foreseeable right now. But the coming year will still bring performances, will still bring college applications, will still bring new experiences. Hopefully, it will bring a return to in-person school and singing together. No matter what, I know you will put all of your best into it. Happy birthday, my sweet Hanniebelle. I'm so proud to be your mom.

(You can also see letters for ages seveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteen,  fifteen and sixteen.)

Friday, January 1, 2021


Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning thirteen.

While it shouldn't really surprise me, you've handled all that 2020 has thrown at you in a very Max way. You've asked lots of questions. You've felt your feelings. You've retreated and emerged. You've done what you needed to do, and often not one ounce more than that. Unless it was something you really wanted to do, and then you went all out.

Like taking walks. It's not enough to just go for a walk - you needed to walk to your old elementary school, then further than that, and then back again, just because you could. Or when you wanted to make a video on something you saw in Minecraft - you knew what needed to be done, and to do it quickly, to capitalize on the moment. You don't accept things at face value. There is always some other dimension to be assessed, another way to think about every concept. You know that playing the same song on your guitar, over and over, is not really the same song. You acknowledge and embrace the differences.

You are flannel shirts and #cupolaoftheday, your own merch and 100+ YouTube subscribers. You are totally prepared for your bar mitzvah, and accepted what it is to be and made your desires known. You are science and politics and economics and music. You have supportive friends who you help to grow into better people, and who help you to grow too. You and Hannah challenge each other and yet are tighter than ever. Shira is your best hammock buddy.

And now I'll have two teenagers in the house. I appreciate when you let me indulge in nostalgia for our own "back thens," when I look for the platinum blonde toddler in the size 11 shoes you wear today. We may not know what this next year will throw your way, but I know I can count on you to make it through it. I love you so much, buddy. Happy birthday.

(You can also see letters for ages threefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleven and twelve.)