The end of my trip to California was absolutely incredible, and I will be sure to dedicate some of my next few posts to New Years/some incredible Ohio State football, my birthday trip to Disneyland, and my return to Israel, but before I forget the goings on of a perfectly incredible day today I want to get it all “down on paper” so to speak.
Today was an incredibly special day to be a member of the Fitoussi family. Stephane’s little brother Michael, who I have had the pleasure of knowing since he was a little boy of 9, was taken to the holiest place that exists for us Jews to wrap his first Tefillin, put on his first prayer shawl, a read from our holiest of holy books, the Sefer Torah. It was the first Bar Mitzvah I have ever attended in the Holy Land and, like most religious events I participate in, it completely overwhelmed me.
We, as Jews, live in a time our grandparents and great grandparents tried to spare us from living in. “Never Forget” is being forgotten and we are back to a time where it isn’t safe to be Jewish. Yet despite a rise in Antisemitism to levels rivaling those of the Nazi and WWII era, and despite the fact that everywhere we go we have to fear attack or condemnation for our beliefs, we are still here, a nation united, growing, and thriving. Here I was standing at the Western Wall in the Old City of Holy Jerusalem watching my future brother in law partake in a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands upon thousands of years. A tradition that unites us all no matter if we are Ashkenaz or Sepharad. To watch him perform a right of passage that our fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, and so on performed themselves was something so powerful to behold. The fact that the Wailing wall was right in front of us only made it that much more … There isn’t even a word to describe it.
Because the Bar Mitzvah took place on the side of the wall reserved for men, us women folk had to find space above where we could look down over our party. Luckily we found a large spot directly above the table where Michael was to be Bar Mitzvahed so we were in a position to both see everything and participate in a very “from the outside” kind of way. Once the Rabbi organized the Sidurim (prayer books) on the table it was time for the men to wrap Tefillin before presenting Michael with his Talit (prayer shawl) and helping him wrap his own Tefillin for the first time. As I was looking down watching Stephane, his brother, and his father wrap themselves in what looks like a very long black belt with two boxes attached to it, it brought me back to a time in my childhood where I would watch my own father wrap himself in the special prayer attire. From watching my father do this to watching my future husband it was a moment of profound joy and pride. This moment solidified, in my mind, our commitment to our Jewish faith, and the fact that we have this amazing history and culture that belongs to both of us, that we can everyday grow in and will one day share with our children. In any relationship, but especially mine, I feel there is nothing more powerful than being able to share this religious bond and connection to God.
Finally it was time for the ceremony to begin, and once Michael was presented with his prayer shawl, he wrapped his first Tefillin, we gave a big Mazal Tov, listened to the beautiful blessings before the reading of the Torah, and then waited while the Rabbi went to present Michael with the Sefer Torah so he could read from it, and officially enter the world of Jewish adult men.
While we were waiting, however, we grabbed some essential photo ops.
The time had finally arrived for the Rabbi to emerge with the Torah…But God had other plans. He brought the rain, and O boy did it rain… And it was so cold! Not to worry though, there is an underground area of the Kotel, but unfortunately from the women’s section we couldn’t see any of our men nor could we hear Michael read from the Torah. At least it was warm underneath but I felt terrible for his mom who had to miss out on his moment. When we finally re-emerged we met up with the men, took our candies out and threw them all over Michael, ate a few snacks before braving the downpour, and then headed back to Tel Aviv where we had a big late lunch/early dinner with the additional family that couldn’t make it in to Jerusalem.
It was a spiritually beautiful day, and there is nothing like being in Jerusalem. I wish I made it more of a priority to visit more often, and it’s a resolution of mine to travel around more of Israel in the remaining months Stephane and I are here before we finish our graduate degrees in America.
I miss you forever and always friend, and I love you more than words can express.
Until we meet again <3,