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A Re-imagined Bat Mitzvah Speech by Yardayna Ben-Simon

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Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a significant milestone in one’s Jewish journey. This is because at age 12 or 13 one is considered to be an adult in the eyes of Judaism; this is a substantial responsibility at which point one is asked to stand in front of your community to reflect and share wisdom. By this point in life, you are able to developed your own outlook on life, and question your identity, Jewishly and otherwise, which is encouraged by Judaism. But, the questioning doesn’t stop here which means that your perspective is bound to change many times over. How will your reflections change if you were asked to share sentiments again later in life? What better way is there to see personal growth and change in perspective than being asked the same reflective question at a later point in life. Here to share new nuggets of wisdom, and what her Bat Mitzvah speech would look like two years out of college is Yardayna Ben-Simon.

I’m being honest: I barely remember what I wrote for my Bat-Mitzvah speech, probably because it wasn’t really true to who I was. But how could it have been? I was only 12, having very little life experience to say something “wise” or true to my heart or beliefs. 

If I could rewrite my Bat Mitzvah speech as my current 20-year-old self, I would talk about mistakes, particularly within the context of leadership. There are a myriad of characters and leaders in the Torah who made life-threatening and even nation-threatening mistakes, which put themselves and the people of Israel at a disadvantage. Aaron and Miriam spoke Lashon Hara (gossiped). Moses broke the Luchot. David committed adultery. Saul disobeyed G-d’s commands. As Jews, we recognize all of these names and acknowledge each person’s undeniable greatness and fierce connection to G-d and Judaism. But I recall that in day-school, my teachers and fellow peers were afraid to also acknowledge their mistakes. We were hesitant to debunk these leaders’ greatness. But I don’t think mistakes are a bad thing. I think mistakes are so human, separating us from G-d’s imperfections. The mistakes that the above-mentioned leaders made lowered them from the level of G-d to the level of the nation and society.  

A B-Mitzvah child enters young adulthood and is suddenly accountable for the future of the Jewish people and its continuity. They are the future leaders. That’s intimidating! However, as leaders, they have to understand and learn from our past leaders in Jewish tradition. Mistakes make people human and they drive one towards self-awareness, which is, I think, one of the most important qualities in a leader. Mistakes make you look back and say “huh, I see what I did wrong there,” hoping that you’ll grow from it and become even more self-aware. So, I would tell my 12-year-old self: don’t let things just happen to you in a passive way. Don’t just say “oops” and not think about what you did wrong or how you could fix it. Get to know yourself, how you interact with people, your strengths and weaknesses, and be OK with making mistakes and hold yourself accountable for them. That is how you can develop into a true leader, and it’s only human.