Even in Nepal, Linking One Generation to Next


"I am Woman," sung by Helen Reddy, was at the top of the charts. Skirts were short, hair and sideburns were long, and platform shoes were the rage.

It was 1973, and the eldest of our four children was about to become the first Bat Mitzvah of her generation in our family. Both sets of grandparents had traveled from Miami and Minneapolis together with other family and friends to join in the celebration.

I was 35 years old, and filled with pride knowing that my daughter was about to become part of an ongoing tradition that began in the early 1920s, when Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan's daughter became the first Bat Mitzvah in the United States.

Thirty-six years later, the surroundings have changed, but the ceremony is the same. It was last spring in Kathmandu, Nepal, and we were 10,000 miles from home. Constantly aware of the scampering monkeys — and the natural beauty of the Himalaya Mountains and embracing forests — my husband and I clasped hands as we anticipated our granddaughter Haley's Bat Mitzvah in this exceptional setting.

Haley's family is in Nepal because our son, her father, David Sadoff, is currently serving as Nepal's director for the American Bar Association.

We began to reminisce about the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in our family — who had attended and who was now missing. While it was tempting to think about the past, I found it helpful and refreshing to focus on the present. I felt comfort from the strength and joy that comes from lessons of our tradition that are passed from generation to generation, L'dor v'dor.

As Haley approached the bimah, I felt a familiar sense of pride and satisfaction. After all, a Bat Mitzvah in Nepal was no ordinary occurrence. Thoughts resonated through my mind — this was not about 36 years ago, but about traditions that began much earlier. I felt a sense of exuberance and optimism for the future of my grandchildren and all of those who perpetuate the tenets of our faith. I felt a sense of continuity and well-being.

My nephew, Jonathan Sadoff, a recently ordained Conservative rabbi, created a service unique to the occasion, including prayers, songs and responsive readings. He brought with him from Israel special meaning to this extraordinary event, as well as some of the symbolic items needed, such as yarmulkes, Havdalah candles and wine.

We held our collective breath as Haley was draped, by her parents, in a beautiful, sheer-pink tallit from Israel. I felt as though the clock simply stopped when she read her portion from the Torah, which had been written on parchment by an authorized scribe in Jerusalem.

Jonathan introduced the mostly non-Jewish audience to the essentials of a Bat Mitzvah, educating them about the rituals and meaning of Haley's becoming a young Jewish woman. He traced the history of our family back to Haley's paternal great-great-grandparents and their strong commitment to Judaism.

Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, classmates, teachers, Israel's ambassador to Nepal and his wife gathered to join the festivities. I marveled at the diversity of the guest list.

This newly formed "congregation" included Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

Some had never met a Jew; most knew little about Judaism, and few had ever attended a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. At this moment, I felt at one with the world.

I watched as the guests became quiet and attentive. I noticed how Haley's classmates responded to her smile, and how she generated an immediate connection with all who were there. I shared their enthusiasm and delight in tossing the candy at her while we sang "Simon Tov and Mazel Tov."

More importantly, I wondered how this experience might touch or change a life.

The celebration of Haley's Bat Mitzvah reminded me of my Jewish roots, links to my family, and how the generations continue to intertwine, regardless of the miles and years that separate us.

Reflecting on the Bat Mitzvah of my daughter (Haley's aunt) 36 years ago and Haley's recent coming-of-age event reassures me that the connections of our faith and family remain intact.

Haley concluded the ceremony with her sister, Rachel, and her brother, Jake, singing "Mah Yafeh Hayom" — "How Beautiful Is This Day."

And there's no doubt in anyone's minds it was.

Joan H. Sadoff is a producer of documentary films focusing on civil rights in Mississippi in the 1960s. She lives in Abington.


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