“Think of it as a show, Grampa,”
said my almost-thirteen year old granddaughter, “not as something religious.”
The “it” in question was the Bat Mitzvah of said grand-daughter, Rivka (nÉe Rebecca) Rose Kelly which took place on Saturday, March 1, 2003.
And her advice was excellent. As a performance, I could compare it with opera. Most of it was sung. The prayer shawls and yarmulkes made for colorful costumes. There were entrances and exits. It lasted about three hours. Taking of pictures was not allowed (darn it!). The words were unintelligible. And I was enthralled.
It all took place in the Kol Emeth Synagogue, and it was very much a family affair – with an unusual twist. Rivka’s four grandparents, who were seated in pews near the front, are all non-Jewish: Lu and Bill Kelly are devout Roman Catholic; Thea and I are non-deist Unitarians. Rivka, her parents Bill and Lisa, and her siblings, Josh and Eve are all Jewish.
A Jewish service involves many different people reading portions of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and many other people with various ritual responsibilities. And among those performers (all Jewish) were:
Rivka Rose Kelly, our granddaughter and star of the show;
Lisa Hodge Kelly, our younger daughter and mother of Rivka;
Bill Hodge Kelly, our son-in-law and father of Rivka;
Joshua Philip Kelly, our grandson and brother of Rivka;
Eve Maya Kelly, our granddaughter and sister of Rivka;
Susan Edith Hodge, our older daughter and aunt of Rivka;
David Aaron Greenberg, Sue’s husband and uncle of Rivka;
April Hodge Greenberg, our granddaughter and cousin of Rivka;
Myriam Hodge Greenberg, our granddaughter and cousin of Rivka;
Adam Hodge Greenberg, our grandson and cousin of Rivka;
Noreen Barbara Field, Thea’s second-cousin-once-removed and third-cousin-once-removed of Rivka
Margo Kelly, daughter-in-law of Lu and Bill and aunt of Rivka;
Alyssa Kelly, granddaughter of Lu and Bill and cousin of Rivka;
I should also mention that the audience included our son Philip T. Hodge, his wife Margie Kubelick Hodge, her son Jason Kubelick, our nephew Nick Hodge, and Bill’s brother, Wayne Kelly.
A further item of note is that David wrote and delivered the “sermon”; one of the few parts of the performance which was spoken rather than sung and which was in English rather than Hebrew.
I can’t say enough about Rivka’s performance. I didn’t hold a stop watch, of course, but she must have had close to an hour of solo chanting up there. As if that weren’t enough, she gave a short talk in English which she had written herself.
She has a clear sweet voice and had memorized her chanting parts almost perfectly. But the thing that most impressed me was the one time when she lost her place in the Hebrew reading. She totally kept her cool. She repeated her last line a couple of times sotto voce, then found her place and sailed on as if the incident had never happened. A very mature teenager.
As a matter of fact, I was impressed by the “operatic” quality of all of our family performers. There were lots of non-family chanters also, and from my totally unbiased viewpoint, our children, in-laws, and grandchildren all stacked up very well against the competition. I was particularly pleased to have a chance to hear Sue’s youngest, Adam in his first away-from-home reading. Unfortunately, we had been unable to attend his Bar Mitzvah three months earlier because of Thea’s illness.
The Bat Mitzvah on Saturday, March 1, was the focus and climax of a wonderful intensive weekend. But it was not the only noteworthy event. After the final Amen there was the traditional lunch for three hundred and some at the Synagogue. And that evening there was a catered party of one hundred plus at the local Community Center.
After barely enough sleep, we were at Lisa and Bill’s house the next morning for a Sunday Brunch (11:00 to 2:00) for “family and out-of-town friends”. In addition to all the family around on Saturday, the former included Thea’s brother, Sid, and Nick’s son, Sean. We were expecting just a couple of unstructured hours visiting with family and munching on left-over goodies from the Saturday feeds. But – -.
The lights were dimmed and there I was on the tv wall-screen. The picture showed me in my easy chair in our current living room. Lisa’s voice said, “Just for the record, what is today’s date,” and I said, “January 3, 1943 – – plus 60 years.” For the next 20 minutes we saw taped shots of Thea and me as we answered Lisa’s questions about our wedding – and went off on tangents. But there were also inserts of still pictures from our past. Shots of our grandparents, parents, and siblings. Shots of various objects. And strains of the wedding march overrode our voices at an appropriate point. Different sections were separated with subtitles of dancing letters.
When it was over; when we had swallowed the lumps in our throats and blotted the tears of joy on our cheeks; when we had said our thanks and exchanged hugs and kisses, I finally said, “All right, now. Explain yourselves.”
For about the past year Lisa had been showing up at our place every once in awhile with her video camera and a little book entitled “To our Children’s Children,” and spent an hour interviewing one or the other or both of us on our past. It’s been fun, but we had yet to see any of the results. We weren’t too surprised when she came on January 3 and asked about our wedding. So obviously that tape was the basis of what we had just seen. But the interview had lasted an hour and hadn’t included any stills or music or section titles. What happened?
Well, Bill had copied the original tape, broken it into little pieces, deleted all the hems and haws and interruptions and silences, rearranged what was left and then cut some more. Lisa and Bill had rounded up still pictures from Sue and Phil and other family members. Bill had gotten lots of pictures and technical advice from David. And Lisa and Bill did all of this during the same two months that they were doing the planning and preparation for all of the Bat Mitzvah celebration!
So, the brunch which had started out at 11:00 as Act IV of Rivka’s coming-of-age celebration had ended at 2:00 as Act II of our anniversary celebration. (Act I, two months earlier, had consisted of Lisa and her children taking us out for ice cream in the middle of the day.)
Act III took place in the penthouse of our apartment building on Sunday evening after a four hour recovery period. The cast consisted of Thea and me, all three of our children (Sue, Phil, Lisa), all three of their spouses (David, Margie, Bill), all six of our blood-grandchildren (April, Myriam, Adam, Rivka, Josh, Eve), and Margie’s eldest son Jason. The only missing descendents were by marriage: Margie’s other two children Lisa-Marie and Eli and Lisa-Marie’s husband, Tony. There were three scenes: pictures, eating, and reminiscing, but first the Prologue:
From the 1993
GroundHog Day Letter
We figured that our kids would plan some sort of focus for our Golden Wedding Anniversary, and when Lisa suggested that we wear something dressy for dinner on Tuesday, we guessed that this might be it. When the restaurant hostess told us to wait in the lobby for a few minutes, I figured that Phil was probably making some last minute arrangements for the waitress to bring in a special dessert and sing “Happy Anniversary.” I was therefore a little taken aback when we were shown into a private dining room with a beautifully set up banquet table, a separate wine table where Phil was saying, “Happy Golden,” and offering a choice of red or white wine. There were hugs and laughter aplenty, but also an undefined air of expectancy.
Suddenly I heard Thea gasp, and I followed her gaze to the end wall of the room. And I gasped, too, as I saw an enormous patchwork quilt covering the entire wall. The eye could not encompass it all at once, but a square near the middle stood out with our names and “January 3, 1943” on it. My brain grasped the fact that this entire quilt had been designed just for Thea and me as an expression of love from our children. The whole room became misty as we hugged each other, hugged our children, hugged Margie and Bill, hugged our grandchildren….
As the evening progressed we found out more of the details. There will be 50 squares to the quilt, each one commemorating one year of our marriage. (The future tense is because this gift follows another family tradition of being presented before it is quite finished!). Margie did all of the sewing, but all of our family contributed to the research and design of the individual squares.
We had figured out a way to hang the above-mentioned quilt from the penthouse ceiling, and that was the background for all of the picture-taking of Scene 1. There were, I believe, up to four cameras, most of them digital, going full blast, so we should eventually put together quite an album. There are pictures of the quilt alone, pictures of just Thea and me, and pictures of all conceivable combinations of family.
After a friendly supper of party leftovers, we returned to the quilt. Thea and I went around the spiral pattern of the quilt year by year with our version of what each square meant.
It was by no means a monologue. Our children added details from their own memories and the grandchildren asked questions. From time to time we had to call ourselves back from some tangent and return to the current square. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. We had told the grandchildren that if they got bored they could go off and play in a different part of the penthouse, but all seven of them were still there at the end. We had been unable to interpret a couple of the squares and had goofed on a couple more, but Phil filled in all of the gaps. Now we not only have a memory-quilt, but we know what those memories are!
And what a fantastic memory has been added by this wonderful weekend. We are so lucky in our family. Our children and grandchildren are all wonderful people and seem to both like us and love us. And they chose such wonderful partners. And as if that weren’t enough, they all like each other!
One last thought about why this weekend was so, so special: It was the first time ever that we had been together with all 3 of our children, all 3 of their spouses, and all 6 of our blood grandchildren. We came close when Margie became an official member of the family in 1995 (she had been a de facto member for several years before that) but David and the Kelly grandchildren were not present. Sue and family couldn’t come to our Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1993 and Eve wasn’t even born until 7 months later. Indeed, the last time that all of our family was together was at Lisa and Bill’s wedding in 1986 before Margie was part of the scene and when April and Myriam were our only two grandchildren.
Believe me, there is no one on earth that I would willingly trade places with.