I am delighted to say that all of the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs that we celebrate at Bonai Shalom are memorable and joyous. We mark this rite of passage for a young person and celebrate the amazing achievement of learning and preparing so much in order to stand in front of the congregation and take their place in the community. Most of our Bnei Mitzvah read Torah, Haftarah (a selection from the Prophets), get called up to the Torah, lead parts of the prayer service and deliver a personal Torah speech, or Dvar Torah. It inspires me how much they do and with such grace and poise!
On Shabbat of July 12th this year, Lila Crank, whose father is Navajo and was raised on a reservation in Utah, did all of this and in her Dvar Torah, she honored her father’s lineage by talking about the concept of Hozho in relation to a story in Torah portion. Moved by the courage of the daughters of Tzelophohad women who stood up for justice, Lila expressed the need for us all to have the spiritual and ethical balance in the world, defined as Hozho for the Navajo people.
After Lila’s beautiful and moving Dvar Torah, her parents blessed her in English and in Navajo and then something extraordinary and very powerful happened. Throughout the process of preparing for this day, we had talked about ways to involve Lila’s father’s people in this rite of passage, but I could not have imagined what actually happened.
Lila’s uncle, wife and kids got up and explained the concept of an “honor song.” When someone really works hard to achieve certain goals, they get acknowledged by their tribe and honored for their achievements. With very deep respect, Lila’s uncle and aunt spoke of their pride and admiration for all that she had achieved to become a Bat Mitzvah. Uncle J. Michael pulled a metal tube from his pocket and, as if he were performing a magic trick, he drew out two white eagle feathers, connected to each other. Lila’s aunt tied these feathers into her niece’s hair as a mark of this passage and then the whole family chanted a Sioux Honor Song. Lila was so visibly moved as she received this blessing from her ancestors, and everyone in the sanctuary was shaken by the resonant power of this moment. The physical experience of the vibrations of the chanting was only part of it; there was something so sacred about a rite of passage ritual shared across two cultures, each deeply respecting the other. A few minutes later, I laid my hands on Lila’s head and chanted the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing. Somehow, it felt like the Jewish and Navajo ancestors were joining together in tribal celebration. There was something redemptive and healing about this service that embraced the fullness of this young person and filled her and all of us with blessings of empowerment.
My conversations with people later that day confirmed that this was indeed a wonderful addition to this Bat Mitzvah that we will all remember. One thing is for sure; no one present had ever experienced anything like that in a shul before!