Happy 13th Birthday Olivia.
It’s not every day I get to wish you a Happy Birthday and beam with pride on your Bat Mitzvah, but today is that day!
I know it’s tradition for me to write a birthday blog, but with all the craziness preparing for your Bat Mitzvah today, I’m posting my Haftorah Drash (also known as parent speech) instead of the typical blog. I know, so lazy of me.
So here it is:
Shabbat Shalom Everyone —
First off– Congratulations are in order Olivia. This is a huge accomplishment.
I’ve watched you over these last several months studying and practicing– leading up to today. It paid off kiddo, in a big way. Your approach to your Bat Mitzvah is similar to how you approach many things. You start out a little fearful…. A little hesitant. You’re not always sure of yourself so you pause– you start again– and then eventually you find your voice.
One thing I want you to know is that you’ve got an important voice. On one hand your voice is full of innocence and wonder– which are great traits to have. I wish I still had them. But on the other hand– you have deep convictions — sometimes some would say to the point of stubbornness. Hmm. I wonder where that comes from? As much as we may butt heads– I don’t want you to ever lose that voice.
Fear is a major theme in today’s Haftorah portion. Uzzah was in charge of guiding the cart– which was carrying the Ark to Jerusalem. But during the journey, the Ox pulling the cart stumbled. Uzzah touched the ark to steady it. That was a big no no in the eyes of God– and God killed him on the spot for his mistake.
Understandably, this freaked out David— and he asks “How can I let the Ark of the Eternal come to me?” He fears that if simply touching the Ark killed Uzzah– bringing it to Jerusalem could mean his own demise, so he changes course parking the ark in a different city for three months. It’s this fear I want to talk to you about today.
In this case, David let fear guide his decisions– and while fear is a good emotion to have because it prevents you from ending up in the ER on a weekly basis– I don’t want fear to guide you in life. I want you to face your fears head on. I’ve seen you do that already today. Standing in front of all your friends and family and leading the service is not for the faint of heart– but you’ve done it.
You’ve also faced the fear of the unknown when it came to your multiple hospitalizations a couple of years ago. Doctors had a hard time figuring out exactly what was making you so sick. Not knowing what was causing your terrible headaches and inability to keep down food and water terrified me. I know it scared you too, but you soldiered through it like a champ. Your first “meal” in the hospital was a piece of toast with strawberry jam. That toast will live in infamy as the best toast ever. Eventually, doctors diagnosed you with migraines– and your illness is now mostly in check. When a migraine strikes, which still happens, it doesn’t scare you as much as it used to. You’ve got a way to attack it.
When there was still a lot of unknowns with your illness, I know one of your biggest fears was you didn’t want to be different from other kids. You didn’t want people to know how crummy you felt, so you hid that from a lot of people…. Even me and Dad at times. I want you to know that it’s ok to let people know when you’re not feeling 100% or even 50%. Sometimes, the best way to confront fear is to let others help you. It’s more than ok– not only to let others help you– but to ask for help when you need it.
While you don’t want to be different from other kids when it comes to your health– when it comes to your unique cultural background you don’t fear it at all. In fact, you embrace it.
I love that you’re not embarrassed or afraid to share your Jewish and Cambodian sides with others. Because of your Dad’s and my backgrounds, you not only look different from us– you look different from your friends. That could strike fear in some kids, but not you. You are proud of your heritage– and you should be! There’s a lot to be proud of. Your ancestors on both sides fought discrimination, oppression, and persecution to give future generations a better life. Millions of Jews died at the hands of Hitler during the Holocaust and millions of Cambodians died at the hands of Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge.These chapters are some of the darkest moments in history, but it’s important to never forget.
You come from a long line of some of the strongest and most resilient people in the world. While Cambodians and Jews may look different on the outside, I’d say we have more in common than people might think. Never forget where you come from– but don’t be afraid of what happened in the past. Use both your Cambodian and Jewish identities to help guide you to make good choices.
When I was your age– and feel free to roll your eyes at this point– one of my favorite authors– if not my most favorite author was Judy Blume. You’re not a huge fan– even though I’ve tried to get you to read a bunch of her books, but she wrote this in one of her books,
“Each of us must confront our own fears… must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure… or to be limited by the fear.”
I love that quote. Letting go of fear means taking risks– and getting out of your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable, Olivia because I don’t want you to be limited by fear. You’ve shown so far that you can do that. Keep it going– otherwise you’ll miss out on so much life has to offer.
Continue to embrace your uniqueness, kiddo. You’re truly one of a kind and I wouldn’t want you any other way.
And by the way– Happy Birthday, too!
I love you.