MAY 24, 2018 – Though the days are gloriously warm and sunny on the North Shore these days, many of us recall where we were during the repeated storms this past winter. While most of us were hunkered down in our homes, Leah Schauer and her family were braving the elements to attend her bat mitzvah at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.
“Leah’s bat mitzvah was March 3, 2018,” says her mother Rachel, a reading tutor at Marblehead’s Glover School. “It occurred during the first of our many March nor’easters.”
Because of the extreme high tides and blustery winds, Leah and her family had trouble sleeping the night before, let alone preparing to welcome family and friends from far and wide to their congregation, which is about a half-mile from the sea.
“We packed all of our clothes and necessary items on Friday morning and left them in the bridal suite at the temple where we had to get ready,” Rachel recalls, noting that the family pictures were all taken before Shabbat “amidst torrential downpours.”
While the family car was spared by inches from a falling tree, its house did not fare as well.
“We left the temple after pictures to check on our home,” Rachel recalls, “only to find pieces of our newly laid roof had blown off, our power lines had been pulled off of our house and were laying in our driveway, and many trees had fallen along our driveway.”
Unable to spend Friday night at home, the Schauers stayed with family and did their best to keep calm.
The temple also had lost power and heat and things were looking bleak for Saturday.
Fortunately, the sun shone on bat mitzvah day and the weather calmed in time for the 9:30 a.m. service.
“Leah was fabulous,” Rachel says, “and I was overjoyed that despite the weather, it all worked out.”
Though Leah had started Hebrew school as a second grader, her religious education began much earlier.
“At the age of two,” her mother recalls, “she started preschool at Shirat Hayam.”
Leah also has been attending Camp Young Judaea since the age of eight.
“She has learned a lot about Judaism,” her mother says proudly, “including prayers, songs, [and] dancing.”
Her mother and her sisters also went to Young Judaea and both her mother and father, Cory Schauer, were bat/bar mitzvah. “There was never a doubt that Leah and her two older sisters would have a bat mitzvah,” Rachel says.
And while there have long been familial expectations for Leah and her sisters Olivia (18) and Carly (15), her parents assert that Leah came to much of her cultural and religious heritage on her own.
“Leah loves being Jewish,” her mother observes, “and she knows how important becoming a bat mitzvah was to her parents and her grandparents. She was motivated to learn as much as she could so she could make herself and her family proud.”
When they were originally given a date for Leah’s bat mitzvah three years in advance, little did the Schauers know the challenges they would face. Ironically, March 3 was not the first date Leah had been given.
“Dates tend to be given based on a child’s birthdate,” Rachel explains. “We had to change our given date due to personal dates, and as a result, we were able to choose the next available date.”
Despite the challenges, however, Leah was poised and able to lead the congregation effectively and beautifully.
Perhaps Leah should have taken some clues from her Torah portion, which was the provocative Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35). It details the building of the Tabernacle and the sin of the Golden Calf.
“Leah was a bit overwhelmed when she first received it,” Rachel admits. “However, these feelings disappeared as soon as she began learning her prayers and portions under the guidance of her wonderful bat mitzvah tutor, Jan Brodie.”
In fact, Rachel recalls, the most challenging element of the preparation was scheduling Leah’s lessons.
“Leah participated on three different sporting teams and she was extremely busy,” Rachel explains, noting that Leah is also a straight-A student. “Luckily, Jan was very patient and he always made it work for Leah.”
In addition to the Schauers and Brodie, the bat mitzvah planning was supported by party caterer Bruce Silverlieb, as well as friends and staff at Shirat Hayam who were especially vital in the hours leading up to the service.
“The staff at Shirat Hayam, especially Barri and Gus, were extremely helpful with the Kiddush and with making sure the temple survived the horrible nor’easter so that Leah could perform her bat mitzvah,” Rachel says.
Once the service began, even more people became involved, including family members who ranged in age from two to 77 and who came from as far away as Florida and California. Everyone trekked into Boston after the ceremony to celebrate at the ICON.
“Having our family and friends come to celebrate Leah, despite the distance and horrible weather conditions, was incredible,” Rachel says.
And while the family reunion made the day extra special, nothing can compare with Leah’s leading the congregation in prayer.“Leah chanted her Torah, Haftarah, and prayers so beautifully,” her mother kvells. “She also memorized her dvar Torah [her personal message], so watching her recite it with such eloquence and confidence was inspirational.”