My Bat Mitzvah years were not the greatest. I was painfully shy. I felt chubby and awkward. I absolutely hated the hot pink suit my aunt and mother helped me pick out, accented with a 1980s-style puffy white shirt. I was so nervous about chanting in front of an audience I thought I would have a heart attack.
But those are superficial worries, and as for the bat mitzvah itself, I felt, like with most things in Judaism, for better or worse, I don’t think too deeply about them: I do them because I’m Jewish. I went to an Orthodox Hebrew Day school where I studied Torah, G’marah, the Prophets and Hebrew every day. Thinking about whether I really wanted a Bat Mitzvah or what it meant to me would have been as ridiculous as pondering whether I had wanted to take the math test put before me. I’m happy I had one to tie me to the Jewish people, no questions asked.
But there was one thing that my mother had me do that was beyond the traditional Bat Mitzvah preparation, a required mandate that has stuck with me to this day, and which I am now passing on to my children. She had me do “13 adult” things to prepare for being a grownup. Some were Jewish in theme. Some were simply being part of the world. I had to make a Shabbat dinner and invite guests. (I chose Chicken Kiev and twice-baked potatoes.) I had to shop for the meal. I had to take a bus myself. I had to call a company and complain about something.
I remember these activities and they are ingrained in me, much more so than my Torah portion or my drash, which I cannot remember at all. My daughter is now 12 and having her Bat Mitzvah this summer. I had her come up with her own list, though I threw a few in there, too. She’s completed about half of them, and she’s already ridden an AC Transit bus through Oakland, volunteered to help some children with a sickness and started finding ways to earn her own money through babysitting and selling used clothes through Vinted. She still has to do laundry for the family, make food for the sick and cook her Shabbat meal.
She told me that she liked the list. She said she thinks it’s a good transition from becoming a kid to an adult, “rather than just have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and suddenly being made to feel like a grownup.”
That’s the point, I suppose. And I did learn one lesson. I’m going to let her pick out her own outfit so that she won’t be stuck with images of her forever in a hot pink suit.
Lisa Fernandez is a digital editor at NBC Bay Area and a former reporter at the Mercury News in San Jose, Calif. She grew up in Rochester, NY, and attended an Orthodox Hebrew Day School. She now lives in Oakland with her husband and two kids. She teaches spin classes for fun.