When I was 12, the tallest boy in my class barely reached my shoulders. My glasses were the size of my face. My hair was even bigger.
That summer, my aunt and uncle sent me to Space Camp.
Space Camp was a Bat Mitzvah present, a nod to my obsession with a galaxy far, far away. We arrived at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on Monday and on Friday we simulated a full space mission. The most coveted roles were in Mission Control. Everyone wanted to be the Flight Director. Somehow, the nerdy girl from Paducah, Kentucky got it. The success or failure of our mission was in my hands.
Learning my Torah portion was stressful, but nothing compared to the pressure of being the Flight Director. On Tuesday we ran a practice mission to give everyone a sense of their role. I botched the landing, our equipment was damaged, we had to abort the mission. It was a bad day.
Fresh from this failure, we shuffled into the Space Dome for an IMAX movie. I settled into my seat, deflated. A few minutes later a boy sat down next to me. His name was Sean. He was from Amarillo, and everyone called him Tex. Tex was my height. Tex was 15. Suddenly, the failed mission seemed far, far away. About halfway through the movie Tex put his hand on my hand. A few minutes later when I resumed breathing normally, I turned my hand over, and our two sticky palms locked together like moist magnets. Flight Director! Holding hands with a boy! It was a good day.
I like to think of Jewish ritual as a set of tools and experiences designed to help us confront liminality. How do we hold the space called becoming? At its best, ritual answers this question. It helps us recognize who we are, and it helps us become who we need to be.
I became a Bat Mitzvah at Space Camp. Directing a mission, holding hands with a boy -- I took my first steps into the zero gravity world of adulthood. I stood up without slouching. I saw a little clearer through my enormous glasses. I reached for the stars, and somewhere out there began to feel more comfortable with myself in the world. Not bad for a 12-year-old.
And the mission? Accomplished.
Jessica Minnen is the Rabbi in Residence at OneTable and the founder of Seven Wells. She is an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Paideia: The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, Baltimore Hebrew University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary.