Planning life-cycle events is challenging during this time of Covid-19. Some people are choosing to move their weddings or bar/bat mitzvahs to later dates and synagogues have been accommodating. Other people choose to keep their original service date holding a small ceremony or online event, sometimes planning a party later.
On April 4, 2020, Maya Jaffee, daughter of Brian Jaffee and Rabbi Shena Potter Jaffee of Cincinnati became a bat mitzvah. She chose to keep her original date but held the ceremony and celebration at home. Her maternal grandfather, Sam Potter, was planning to join her with his second bar mitzvah and this date worked for him since he would be 83 years old.
A second bar mitzvah can be held at that age because the Torah says a man’s normal life span is seventy years, so thirteen years later, he can become a bar mitzvah for the second time.
When her grandfather “Sampo” chanted his aliyah, Maya became calm and her years of preparation “clicked in.” Maya’s maternal grandmother, Maxine Potter, read a prayer for Israel in Hebrew. Sam and Maxine Potter live in Cincinnati. They were both physically present at the ceremony.
Maya’s paternal grandparents live in Oberlin, Ohio, but were able to participate by video streaming. Mark Jaffee read the Torah. Maya wore a tallit hand-knitted by her grandmother Kathy Jaffee with the date of Maya’s bat mitzvah embroidered into corner of tallit. This was another reason it was important to Maya to become a bat mitzvah on this date.
The whole Jaffee family was grateful to the staff of Adath Israel for learning to use video streaming technology so seamlessly that someone asked them if the ceremony had been edited. Rabbi Smolkin officiated while Dara Wood, Adath Israel Ritual Director became their “tech guru.” She was able to spotlight each person who participated in the service, muting and unmuting people as needed. Maya felt well prepared by her tutor Mitch Cohen.
Maya experienced her bat mitzvah as very happy and joyful. Everyone was comfortably in their homes and some people such as friends from Israel, who wouldn’t have been able to attend, could view her simcha. The texts she received from her friends and family afterward as well as a video chat get-together made the celebration complete. In addition, there were yard signs brought by family friends, a beautiful professional cake with the design from Maya’s invitation, and big silver balloons with Maya’s name on them.
The services of a professional celebration planner were particularly valuable for planning this event under such unfamiliar circumstances, who helped Rabbi Jaffee maneuver through a constantly changing situation dictated by what was possible and Governor DeWine’s mandates.
Chrissie Blatt, a friend of Rabbi Jaffee, finds herself in the unique position of planning her own twelve-year-old daughter’s bat mitzvah for the fall and helping others through the stress and uncertainty of their own life-cycle events.
The first thing Blatt did was to identify what the most important pieces of Maya’s mitzvah were and then worked with Rabbi Jaffee on how best to plan for them. Maya wanted to read from the Torah on her actual bat mitzvah date and to deliver the Dvar Torah that she had prepared. They were also able to play Maya’s photo slideshow with music through video chat.
“Just because your event may be different than the traditional weekend that you imagined, doesn’t mean it won't be awesome!” said Blatt.
Blatt advises that identifying an alternative date with your synagogue, venue and vendors can provide you with a backup plan and more importantly peace of mind.
Josephine Schizer was included by the New York Jewish Week in “36 under 36”, a list of 36 young New York Jewish leaders “from across denominations and professions”. Schizer is 18 years old and has been admitted to Harvard University for her freshman year for academic year 2020-21. As a high school Junior, Schizer had been a 2019 Bronfman Fellow, a program that begins with a five-week trip to Israel and seeks to create a network of over a thousand pluralistic young Jews from Israel and North America.
Schizer is a 2020 graduate of Ramaz High School in Manhattan where she was co-editor-in-chief of the school paper, The Rampage, co-founder of the engineering club, and captain of the Ramaz Science Olympiad team, among many other extra-curricular activities. She has also worked to expand the roles of women in Orthodox Judaism, organizing a monthly women’s tefillah group at her synagogue in New York. Her family roots are in Cincinnati; Schizer is the granddaughter of Louise Wolf and the late Alan Wolf. She is the daughter of Meredith Wolf Schizer (Yavneh Day School and Walnut Hills graduate) and David Schizer.
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