Shabbat Shalom! Thank you so much for coming to celebrate my bat mitzvah with me today. It means so much to me to see so many of you here. Today we are celebrating my becoming a Jewish woman, but how does this connect to how I live my daily life? How will this milestone impact the choices that I make? In order to answer these questions, we are going to look at one of my favourite hobbies.
Netball is a sport that I am really passionate about, and have been playing regularly for the past 2 years. I play both for my school team and a team outside of school, as well as doing extra training camps. In this speech I will talk about a few of my favourite aspects of netball and how they connect to becoming the best person I can be.
In netball, I play goal shooter. The reason I love this position is because I love feeling the satisfaction of scoring a goal. If the net was massive and the ball was tiny, netball would be boring because it would be so easy! The reason that netball is exciting, is because there is challenge involved. Not everything in life is easy, sometimes it can be challenging to do the right thing. But when we make a positive decision even when it’s hard, it’s like scoring a goal. We get the satisfaction of knowing we did the right thing. Now that I’m bat mitzvah, I’m responsible for the choices that I make. Sometimes the easier decision isn’t always what’s right, but personal growth comes from the difficult positive choices that we make.
In this weeks parasha, parashat Vayeitzei, we read about an amazing woman who made a decision to do the right thing even though it was very difficult. Yaakov, who was Avrham’s grandson, wanted to marry a woman called Rachel. Her father, Lavan insisted that Yaakov work for him for 7 years in order to marry Rachel. After working for seven years, the date of the wedding was finally arriving. Rachel knew her father well, and guessed that he would try to trick Yaakov into marrying her older sister Leah. Yaakov and Rachel decided on a secret code that Rachel would say under the chuppah- which is the Jewish wedding canopy- so that he would know whether it was her or not. The night before the wedding, Rachel realised that if her dad did switch them and trick Yaakov into marrying Leah, Leah would get humiliated in front of all the wedding guests when she didn’t know the code under the chuppah. Even though it was an upsetting choice to have to make, she told Leah the secret code so she wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of everyone. I think what Rachel did was amazing, because she did the right thing even though it wasn’t the easier choice. In my life I might come across decisions where the easier choice isn’t what is right. I learnt from Rachel how meaningful it can be to do the right thing no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, and I’m going to try to do this in my lifetime of being a Jewish woman.
Another example of making the right decision, no matter how hard, was made by my great-grandmother Alice who sadly isn’t strong enough to be with us today.
A few months ago, she sat down with my brother, Rafi, and me to relate her experiences of the second world war. She explained to us that around Yom Kippur 1942, she found herself on a train platform in Jilniya in what is now Slovakia with her mother and elder sister Marta. The Nazis were dividing everyone into groups to determine which 1000 people would be sent to Auschwitz. An official came to her alone and said that she should join the group of people who would not be transported to Auschwitz. Despite knowing that it put her life at risk, she told the official “I can’t. I have my mother and my sister with me”. The official left her, but a few moments later an announcement called for her, her sister and mother to join those people not going to Auschwitz. Of the 1000 who were selected that day to go to Auschwitz, we now know that two thirds were murdered immediately on arrival. Alice’s sister, Marta, eventually survived the Holocaust, moved to Israel, had children and lived to know her grandson there.
In my life I might come across decisions where the easier choice isn’t what is right. I have learnt from Rachel and my great-grandmother Alice how meaningful and impactful it can be to do the right thing no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, and I’m going to try to do this in my lifetime of being a Jewish woman.
The second aspect of netball that I enjoy, is watching the ball travel down the court with every team player doing their bit. I like this because it shows the importance of teamwork and the fact that everyone’s role is important. We see the importance of working as part of a team in this week's parasha. At the beginning of Vayeitzei, Yaakov is on the way to Charan, and he finds a place to sleep. Before he lies down, it says in the Torah that "he took from the stones of the place and he put them around his head ". But when he woke up, the Torah says "Yaakov woke up early in the morning and took the stone he placed under his head". Why were there multiple stones when he went to bed, and just one stone when he woke up? The Midrash gives us the background story which answers this question. He placed 12 rocks under his head before he went to sleep, and Hashem merged them into one as he slept in order to show him that he would be the leader of the Jewish people, made up of 12 tribes.
The 12 stones turning into one teaches us that there are two aspects to being part of the Jewish people. It started with the separate, individual rocks, each one with its own shape and identity. This symbolises that each person is unique. Hashem could have made us all clones of each other, but instead He gave us all unique identities. No one has exactly the same looks, talents and personality as anyone else in the world. Hashem made us all different and gave us all a different set of tools, to show us that we all have our own personal life missions.
But then the stones merged into one. This teaches us that being a Jew means realising that it’s not all about us living our life on our own, but instead that we are part of a bigger picture. We are meant to be using the talents that we have been gifted to contribute to the wider community. The twelve rocks represent the 12 tribes. Each tribe had a different role in the Bnei Yisrael, without which the Jewish people would be lacking! Like in netball, each position is not meant to be the same- and it's each player carrying out their own role that makes the team work as a whole. The Jewish people are like a netball team with everyone playing their own position within the nation, and now that I’m bat mitzvah I’m taking my place on the court.
The last aspect of netball that I’m going to talk about today, is the reason that I play it in the first place- that it’s fun! Playing after school is always something that I look forward to. It’s so nice to do something I enjoy with my friends on the team. And how does this link to Judaism? Because Judaism is also meant to be a positive experience. Psalms in Hebrew are called Tehillim, and in Tehillim 100 it says “serve Hashem with happiness”. I love shul at the chagim because it’s so special to see the entire community come together. I also love on the chagim taking part in the different mitzvot which we observe such as hearing the shofar, having a meal in the succah, eating cheesecake and doughnuts (two particular favourites) and taking part in the Seder service. I love going to Israel, having Shabbat with my family there and being surrounded by so many different types of Jews and having a great time. I love being part of a special nation. Being Jewish comes with so many great experiences, and should be something that we look forward to. I feel so proud to now be able to call myself a Jewish woman.
Thank you all so much for being a part of this special time in my life, and wishing you all a shabbat shalom.