Adele Tversky did not want to postpone her bat mitzvah.
The Jewish coming-of-age ceremony is typically celebrated with the 13-year-old leading the Saturday morning prayer service, including reading from the Torah scroll. Families invite the congregation to a luncheon afterward, and usually, friends and family are invited for a party later that night. Sometimes it becomes a whole weekend event, with Friday night prayer services and dinner and a brunch for family on Sunday.
Adele, a seventh-grader at Kealing Middle School, had been practicing for the April 18 event by learning how to read Hebrew, learning the prayers, writing a sermon called a d’var Torah and learning how to read the portion for that week from the Torah scroll.
In March, it slowly became clear that this wasn’t going to be the bat mitzvah Adele and her family had been planning. Friends and family everywhere from New York City to San Francisco wouldn’t be able to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic. Then there was a question of whether she would be able to be in the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Israel and read from the Torah.
Adele could have postponed, but unlike some ceremonies where you can pick another date, postponing would mean learning a whole new Torah portion (a section from the five books of Moses) and Haftarah (a section in the Prophets or Writings). Each of those is tied to a specific week of the year.
"I had already learned everything," she says. "I didn’t want to do it all over again. I wanted to get it over with, no matter what the circumstances."
So, the family decided to celebrate her bat mitzvah virtually.
"I did kind of have a moment when we realized we wouldn’t be able to go to the temple to do it," Adele says. And, of course, "I was kind of sad that I wouldn’t be seeing everyone."
Adele is the oldest grandchild in her family, and this was going to be a big reunion, says her mom, Jenna Martin. "Everybody was super excited," she says. "This was the biggest thing since the last wedding five years ago."
Jenna calls her daughter an old soul. She says Adele wasn’t as upset about the party not happening as she was about the family not getting together. Also, her bat mitzvah service project, which involved creating a mentorship program for students at Kealing, had to be put on hold until next school year.
The day before the bat mitzvah, the family had a practice session with the clergy to work out all the technical aspects of a virtual celebration and try to get rid of some of the nerves. The practice was key, because at one moment during her Torah reading, Adele couldn’t stop laughing. That’s when they figured out she needed some Play-Doh to squeeze to get out the nerves.
That night, friends came by their house and decorated her front porch and visited from a safe distance.
On April 18, at the same time as was originally planned, friends and family could log into a Zoom meeting room, and the congregation could log onto Congregation Beth Israel’s YouTube page to watch the morning services and witness Adele become a bat mitzvah.
The service felt familiar to regular Saturday morning attendees — except, of course, it was all being broadcast into whatever space from which they were watching.
The Tversky family set up a mini chapel in the front room of their house, with a table and a backdrop of the San Francisco area, where they have spent a lot of time. They had multiple computers going where they could watch both the Zoom feed (with themselves, the rabbis, the cantorial soloist, service participants and loved ones), and the live YouTube feed where people posted comments: "Mazel Tov Adele!" "Love you Adele!" "Congrats Adele." "Snazzy Work!!!" "You’re doing great Adele!!!!!!" "Congrats from Cincy." "Hooray Adele!" "Nailed it, Adele!"
The YouTube feed’s view shifted from living room to living room with each participant. Adele’s grandmother in New York was able to do one of the Torah blessings from her home. Both Adele and her father, Tal Tversky, read from the Torah. They did not have an actual Torah scroll in their house. Instead, they read from a printed photo of the Torah portion they would have read at Congregation Beth Israel. They had taken the photo months before to practice reading the portion, because every Torah is hand-lettered and looks slightly different.
Not being in the sanctuary with the Torah was hard for Adele.
"There’s definitely disappointment," Jenna says, but there’s also gratitude that they could go ahead and celebrate the bat mitzvah. "I think the magic is in the mess," she says. "People are doing much more; they are doing the harder thing."
Some of that magic at Adele’s bat mitzvah was that more people were able to join them from afar than would have been able to travel to Austin.
After the service ended, the congregation left the Zoom chat running, and they were able to share their blessings with Adele. They went in generational order. "It was kind of amazing," Tal says.
The family also celebrated with a traditional bat mitzvah brunch at home. They set up a reception area with flowers and balloons that read "Mazel Tov, Adele."
The family had ordered 150 Tiny Pies for the occasion; they kept just a few for delivery to their house, and the rest went to Dell Seton Medical Center.
Adele had a Zoom party with her friends later that night. She didn’t like that people couldn’t have multiple conversations going at once, but "it was still nice to see everyone’s faces."
Adele says her best advice for another kid deciding whether to do a bar or bat mitzvah online is that "it’s OK to be nervous, but keep on going. If you make a mistake, it's fine. Just continue."
"Just do it," she says. "It was really fun."
The family likens the story of Adele’s bat mitzvah to children’s picture book "Something From Nothing," in which a grandfather’s blanket gets loved away until it’s just a button, and then the button gets lost. Then, a family of mice makes something out of the scraps that have fallen.
"It’s such a beautiful Jewish story of overcoming and storytelling," Jenna says, adding about Adele’s bat mitzvah: "It was really something from nothing."