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University of Colorado Boulder Program in Jewish Studies
Rabbi Marc Soloway

A Bat Mitzvah to Remember – Tribal Blessings

Rabbi Marc Soloway
Rabbi Marc Soloway

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!

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Prep

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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5 comments

  1. I was so moved with tears of pride for Lila and her ability to bridge the heritage of her unique family in such an inspirational way. She is, indeed, a blessing to us all.

  2. dear Rabbi
    i have always know that Judaism and Native American thoughts and beliefs were connected; have never
    known how to prove it; now Lila's family has done that for me;

    I also have a big story about saving Wild horses on the Navajo reservation; i would love to send that to you directly.
    miriam paisner

  3. Loren Crank, Sr.

    Right on, sir. It was immensely pleasing to see a beautiful young lady so honored. In Navajo the women are revered. Thank you for making this connection between our culture so vastly different yet the are parallel.

  4. Why a Sioux honor song? She is Navajo. Traditional Diné have their own songs.

    • Traditional Diné do not sing their honor songs unless for a Diné ceremony. This honor song was the most appropriate choice for the situation and audience.