When my youngest sister started calling it the ”Beach Mitzvah” a few months before the big day, the new event title stuck and we’ve been referring to it that way ever since.
That is what it was, a Beach Mitzvah. Our youngest daughter became a Bat Mitzvah last month and the service was held under a tent at Paradise Cove in Ko Olina…. and it was fabulous.
Once all of our mainland guests arrived, all of the details were taken care of and we were finally celebrating this significant rite of passage together with our family and community on the lush green grass, under the warm bright sun, along the crystal clear water of one of Oahu’s most beautiful “Secret Coves,” it is hard to imagine that choosing this venue so that our youngest daughter could perform this particular rite of passage was anything but completely deliberate.
In reality it was an act of compromise that turned out to be exactly what we wanted, a Beach Mitzvah.
It is not uncommon for these important events that are usually planned at least a year in advance to suffer a few setbacks. Caterers screw up, teenagers forget their Torah portions, people get stuck in traffic on their way to the Synagogue. It teaches us to focus on what is important and why we come together to appreciate the true meaning of these rituals. Ours was no exception. Luckily for us, the bumps in the road happened long before the Bat Mitzvah date.
Due to forces beyond our control and details on which I will not dwell at this moment, we switched shuls in the middle of her Bat Mitzvah study and preparation. Our new congregation, The Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC,) is located on Pearl Harbor Naval Base with limited public access. So we had to figure out a way to bring over one hundred people, our family and local community, together for a service outside of this military installation.
Combine that with the fact that our Bat Mitzvah is quite the individual, the idea of a typical reception, a Saturday night party with a DJ and dancing, was not her idea of a fun way to celebrate all of her hard work and study. She preferred a beach party so she could swim and hang out with her friends in the cool water of the Pacific Ocean and also celebrate this paradise that we call home. That part was not a problem for us. We also prefer this type of celebration.
It wasn’t easy coordinating all of the moving parts of this particular piece of our family’s Jewish traditions, but once we “settled” on Paradise Cove, everything fell right into place—kind of like Divine intervention!
When we realized the need to hold the service outside of the chapel, it was the Bat Mitzvah herself who immediately made the connection between the Torah portion she was studying and our choice of venue. In her portion of Terumah, Exodus 25 1-16, G-d tells the Israelites to: וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם, “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”
That’s exactly what we did. We made a mishkan, a sanctuary. We put up a tent with three sides at Paradise Cove. In the front we created a “Bima” by setting a small folding Japanese table that I bought years ago at City Mill on top of a folding 6 foot table and covering each with a table cloth. It ended up creating both a lectern on which to place the Torah and an “Ark” in which to keep it safely covered during the rest of the service.
We placed 120 plastic white chairs under the tent in a semi-circle facing the Bima, hooked up microphones for sound, brought the Torah from the AJC and voila, G-d was definitely among us.
My sister commented that it’s not very often that the Torah gets to go outside—kind of like a Torah field trip. We decided that it must be enjoying its few moments in the fresh air. We certainly did. And boy did we celebrate.
In some ways it was not much different than a typical weekend family celebration. We shuttled guests between airport and hotels. We coordinated schedules with 25 out of town visitors. On Friday, we enjoyed Shabbat dinner and Erev Shabbat services with our family at the AJC. On Sunday we had a barbecue at our house for our family to be together again. And every minute of it was very special.
But I have to say that the Beach Mitzvah was particularly poignant. The pieces of this puzzle transformed so magically and beautifully we couldn’t help but feel the inspiring presence of G-d—in our Bat Mitzvah who’s sweet voice chanting from the Torah reminded us that she chooses to take her place among generations of Jews who have chanted those same words and made similar sanctuaries in their own communities and homes and hearts, in the united pride of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings and friends and in the sublime paradise of the mishkan we created by the beach on the leeward side of Oahu for our beautiful and wonderful and amazing Beach Mitzvah.