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The Bas Mitzvah that Never Was
by Sylvia Maltzman
9/04/2014 / Testimonies
"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." (Isaiah 58:11-12)
When I was a very, very small child (maybe 4 years old), my parents took me to the local synagogue for the very first time. I couldn't pronounce the name of the building, and I kept asking questions about where we were and why we were there. My parents just wanted me to shush -- we weren't there for the usual reasons people attend synagogue, just to crash some little boy's Bar Mitzvah and eat the free food afterwards. So they didn't want to attract any attention to themselves, and I was not cooperating. Since we were out in public, they couldn't chastise me openly, so they kept telling me to be quiet and then ignoring my questions.
Fortunately, an elderly person in the row of seats ahead of us turned around and started engaging me in conversation. I don't remember whether this person was a man or a woman -- I had never seen an elderly person before, and I was as bewildered by this person's appearance as I was by the synagogue we were in. He or she began explaining where we were, what each part of the synagogue meant, including the Everlasting Light near the ceiling. I had never heard the word "God" before except when Mom or Dad had used it as part of a curse word. I shocked and delighted to learn that there was a God Who had made everything that I could see and feel and hear -- including me! God made me! When the ceremony started, I kept asking about what was going on. I had never heard of a Bar Mitzvah before, and I saw a little boy up on the Bema platform alongside several grown men. Wow, little kids can do things for God! I wanted to do that, too! My parents, in a final act of desperation to get me to shut up, promised me that at the right time, I would do a Bas Mitzvah, which was the same ceremony but for girls, but I had to be absolutely obedient, very good, and never get into any trouble. And I had to stop asking questions now.
I happily agreed. And for the next 8 years, I did everything I could to fulfill my part of the bargain. I was quiet, I stayed out of the way, I never caused any trouble, I ate all my vegetables, and I never talked back to my parents. I silently lived through their alcoholism and prescription drug abuse, their screaming fights, their bloody divorce, and their chronic neglect (near abandonment) of me in my formative years. In the meantime, I had no religious instruction, and I particularly wasn't taught how to read Hebrew or even how to pronounce it. One day when I was 12, almost 13, I started getting worried because I had worked so hard to earn my Bas Mitzvah, but no one else seemed to notice that that my 13th birthday had almost arrived. Nervously, I approached my father, and in my quiet, timid voice, I sweetly asked him, "Daddy, isn't it time for us to plan for my Bas Mitzvah?"
His face altered into a mask of rage. He stood up violently and knocked over his chair. He balled up his fists and roared. He cursed me to my face for having been born a worthless girl and told me if I'd been a boy, I could've had it all...but it took years of study to get ready, and I didn't have any of that. I didn't deserve any of that. Whatever prevented him from giving me the beating of my life, I don't know, but apparently it was a miracle and the only saving grace of that moment. He said I had ruined his life. I was garbage. And if I had been interested in that, I should've told him a long time ago.
I walked away, stunned, defeated, and crushed in spirit. I would never get the chance to stand before a congregation and proclaim myself God's girl. I had been duped into submission by a false promise, and my best efforts and silent suffering had been in vain.
Fast forward through all my subsequent running away from God, from that point on to Easter of 2005, when I finally turned my life over to Messiah Jesus. I had sunk lower than I ever had in my life, and I had nowhere to turn but to God, the same God Who made Heaven and earth and me. I started attending the neighborhood Methodist church, and one great thing about Methodist church services is that they use laypeople to read Scripture and even give brief messages. I got picked to read Scripture, and as I stood on the platform and read it out loud in public for the very first time, I said to myself, "This is my Bas Mitzvah." I got to read it many times in the 2 years that I attended that church, and when I moved, I was also a frequent liturgist in my next church. Bas Mitzvah, Bas Mitzvah, Bas Mitzvah -- I don't know how many times I have been Bas Mitzvah'ed in this Messianic way. And I've given my testimony, and I've given brief messages, and I've led congregations and groups in prayer.
But it was only yesterday that I finally realized that the Bas Mitzvah I had longed for and which had been stolen from me, was repaid to me many times over. Proverbs 6:30-31 talks about a thief having to give back sevenfold. And Joel 2:25 states, "I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten." I have been given more than a nice dress, a day in the sun on the altar, and an afterparty. I'm not glad that my parents cheated me out of my birthright, but I am blessed that God has given me something far more meaningful in exchange for what was lost -- a covenant relationship that never ends and unlimited chances to proclaim Him.
Sylvia Maltzman has been writing poetry, short stories, articles and skits since she was 16. Trained as an educator, Sylvia has a fervent desire to bring the Scriptures to life for everyone.
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