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Shavuot Learning from Mischa

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Mischa

First of all, thank you to everyone for being here with me. One of the benefits of having my Bat Mitzvah over zoom, is that friends and family members from all over the country and all over the world, are able to join us today. So, thank you.

For me, becoming a Bat Mitzvah is a time to look at the past, present, and future. Today is a day to look back at my life, look at everything I’ve accomplished, and all the challenges I’ve faced, and acknowledge that I’m entering a new phase in my life, as I take on more responsibility. I’ve been told by many, many people that becoming a Bat Mitzvah is not just a few hours in one day. Not even just one special day. They say it is a process. I feel like I have been preparing for today for my whole life. Although I may not have had tutoring at the age of four, or been writing this speech at the age of seven, I did start developing my Jewish identity at those ages. The values and identity that I have developed throughout my childhood, at my school, Nettelhorst, my summer camp, OSRUI, my youth group, NFTY, and my Hebrew school, Moadon, will stay with me as I grow.

I'd like to tell you about some of the core values that I’ve learned are most important to me, and that have helped me really know who I am as I become a young adult. The first core value I’d like to talk about is learning and teaching. For as long as I can remember I have loved learning, and hoped to become a teacher.

Over the years, when I’ve had days off of school, I would sometimes go to Moadon to be a teacher’s assistant with the younger children, and I always enjoyed it. Now, as a NFTY ambassador, I am learning even more about how to be a leader and a teacher. I am also able to share what I’ve learned with my peers. It feels good to help others and contribute to their learning. My time with NFTY and Moadon have solidified learning and teaching as one of my values.

A key value my family has taught me is kindness. They show me that no matter what, they love me, and that has taught me compassion. I am now able to draw on that experience in my friendships, as well as with strangers. Sometimes it is hard, and sometimes I mess up. But kindness is also about being kind to myself. So even if I mess up, I have to be kind to myself and say “Hey, everyone messes up sometimes. It’s ok, and you learn from your mistakes”.

A more light hearted-but equally important-value that I’ve learned is fun. At OSRUI, everything feels like a fun adventure. A big part of this is loosening up and letting go to allow fun to happen. Applying this to everyday life, and making fun a priority, is really important to me. This value in action, means making intentional choices to foster and create fun in my life. Examples from this COVID time period, which is full of challenges, include planning outdoor get togethers with local friends and family, organizing fun zoom calls with my camp friends (which by the way, we are overdue for!), and spending extra time in nature at our house in Indiana.

A fourth core value I’ve identified in my life is equality and respect. In school, we recently read a short story called “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonneget. It is a story about equality but not in the sense that any of us strive for. In the story, people who are considered physically beautiful have to wear a mask, which by the way, is ridiculous because everybody is beautiful. People who are especially smart have their thoughts interrupted every 20 seconds, and people who are exceptionally strong have to wear a weighted necklace or backpack to offset their physical strength. Of course, this kind of equality is not what I hope for in this world. What I hope for is an equality that gives everyone safety, justice, opportunity, and respect, regardless of race, gender, size, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and countless other identities and characteristics. In many ways, I can contribute to this goal. I can treat everyone I come in contact with, equally and with respect. These values of teaching, kindness, fun, and equality and respect are so important to me, and I will take them with me moving forward.

If becoming a Bat Mitzvah is all about the process, why did we ask you to put a couple hours aside so that you could come listen to me lead this service, and read from the Torah? The whole point of today is to share everything I’ve learned leading up to my Bat Mitzvah. In addition to strengthening the core values I’ve discussed already, I’m very proud that I’ve improved my Hebrew reading so much. For me, it is so important because half of my relatives speak, read and write Hebrew, and now I feel like I can be a bigger part of that. Now that I’ve shared about my learning process leading up to today, I want to talk about the Torah portion I recently chanted.

My Torah portion comes right after the 10 commandments. It shows us more concrete examples of how the 10 commandments play a role in daily life. There are so many examples of lessons and values in my portion that were important when the Torah was written, and are still relevant today. The following are some of the examples I want to share with you. “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil”. This means if many people - even people you know and trust and love - are doing something you know is wrong, you should not follow them. Although it is difficult, being the upstander is such an important role in society, and one that I aim to fulfill.

Another example I want to share is “If you meet your enemy’s ox or the enemy’s ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again”. This means that your responsibility to the environment and to your community, matters more than any interpersonal conflicts you may have. What I’ve understood from this verse is that we may need to put our personal conflicts aside when they are at odds with the needs of the larger community or environment.

The part of my portion that I want to focus on today with you is this: “And a stranger shall not oppress; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. We all know what it is like to be the stranger. We’ve all been the odd one out before. So why do some treat people who are different in cruel or prejudiced ways? I am in a club at school called FOR club which stands for Friends of Rachel. Rachel Joy Scott was the first one killed at Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999 during the school shooting. About a decade after Rachel's death, her father found an essay of hers in which she had written "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” This quote is so inspiring to me. For my Bat Mitzvah project, I have combined these ideas of offering compassion to others and contributing to the chain reaction of kindness. I am making supply kits for people without homes. These kits will help them through the winter by providing needed supplies for life without a house. When I sent out an email to everyone asking you to participate in my project, I added a page on how to host this project in your own community, because I want to make a difference bigger than my own efforts. I see this as another opportunity to be part of a chain reaction.

I have witnessed a small chain reaction like this even in my own home. For example, I invite Romy to hang out in my room and read with me. She would then feel inspired to be kind to Emmett, so she builds Lego with him. Then Emmett would want to do something kind to Sy, like read him a book. Then Sy would make the whole family laugh, with a knock-knock joke about a banana crying. And the cycle continues.

Rachel’s idea about a kindness chain reaction, and the verse from my Torah portion about treating others with respect and equality, inspire me to treat everyone-friends and strangers-with more compassion.

I want to finish by thanking everybody who helped me get to this moment. First off, I want to thank you all for being here. Thank you to my Nettelhorst friends for being so loving and supportive.

You guys make school fun. To my camp friends, the thought of going to camp with you again gives me hope through the pandemic. Nana, Papa, Lisa, Matt, Eric, Allie, Anouk and Cleo. Although I am very lucky that we were able to have our family dinners at some points through the pandemic, I look forward to being able to do it without wearing masks. Saba, Savta, Mayrav, Renee, Yaniv, Michal, Eitan, Mili, Jonah and Elan. I can’t wait for the day when we are all vaccinated and can have our Shabbat family dinners again. To all my relatives, I love you. I want to thank Savta for being such a big part of planning my Bat Mitzvah. I know that you worked very hard, and it means so much to me. Mayrav, Renee, Mama, and Romy, thank you for working on my Bat Mitzvah photo montage. I’m so excited to watch it after havdalah! Ronit, you were the best tutor I could ask for. You were so supportive and you made me believe that I could accomplish everything you were teaching me. Romy, Emmett, and Sy, you never fail to make me laugh. All of your jokes really help me with the stress of remote learning and all of the crazy things going on in my life. Mama and Aba, you have supported me from the beginning. You helped me so much in getting to this point. Thank you for having my back during this process. I love you both to the Moon and back. Shabbat Shalom everybody!

About the Author: Mischa is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Mischa loves to eat latkes during Chanukah! She belongs to Temple Beth Israel in Skokie with her family. Mischa is an active member in NFTY Chicago Area Region (NFTY-CAR), and spends her summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 


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