I dislike technology and technology doesn’t like me.
So, when my niece Kimberly (my brother Ted’s daughter), who lives in Connecticut, called to ask me if I would do her family the honor of accepting an aliyah at her daughter Julia’s Bat Mitzvah, I immediately said yes.
I can’t say I was exactly a pro, but I also had an aliyah at Kim and Jeff’s son’s bar mitzvah three years ago.
Kim had given us all plenty of time to rehearse the prayers before and after the Torah reading. We talked about it in January and the event was scheduled for April 4. So as soon as the invitations arrived, my family and I booked our reservations at the hotel for the three-day event.
After shopping for my wardrobe and booking hair appointments I was primed to go.
And then it happened, the coronavirus, the worst pandemic scourge any of us had ever experienced. And it spoiled everything. All I could think of was my mother’s famous Yiddish saying, “Mann Tracht, Und Gott Lacht” translated into “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” My mother was right.
Obviously the bat mitzvah had to be postponed; it’s been rescheduled for September. But the parsha for that Saturday could not be changed; it was etched in stone, or rather, written in the Torah. Julia had already learned the parsha, and written an essay on its meaning. So the show had to go on.
With the rabbi and Julia’s immediate family in the sanctuary and the cantor and her guitar chiming in from home, this was going to be my first virtual bat mitzvah. Not a problem, said Kim. “You can do this Aunty Myrna,” she kept saying. “It will be on Zoom.”
Admittedly, I had heard about Zoom but I assumed I would never have to learn anything about it. After all, I wasn’t a businesswoman and I wasn’t planning on running any kind of a meeting. Kim kept sending me multiple ways of getting into Zoom so I would be able to chime in when the rabbi asked me. I was petrified.
My daughter-in-law uses Zoom all the time so she helped me join. At the same time, my temple, Tiferet Shalom, sent out links to access Shabbat services. Sometimes I was able to join other times when it didn’t work. In the meantime, I had so many emails from Kim, hoping to make it easier for me.
I couldn’t eat – which isn’t so bad although I didn’t lose any weight – and my autoimmune disease came back with the worst rash ever. I was so frustrated, I literally begged her to get someone else to take over my aliyah.
Then Kim came up with a compromise. I could pre-record the prayers and they would be inserted at the right time.
The morning of April 4, I connected with Zoom and was able to watch the entire bat mitzvah. Admittedly, after I saw what others did, I could probably have participated in person, but it was too late. And since I decided I looked awful, I had shut off my camera (so when the rabbi looked for my picture it wasn’t there).
But, I didn’t spoil the bat mitzvah. Everything went off fairly smoothly and Julia, a very bright and posed young lady, did a wonderful job.
It was the best bat mitzvah I never attended.
So you’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing with my newly discovered technology skills. These days, I’ve been practicing on the temple programs shown on Zoom. On Pesach, I was able to get in on the virtual second night Seder from the rabbi’s home. I couldn’t connect with the Saturday morning service and study through Zoom so I had to stream it without being heard. And I finally connected with the temple’s program on the coronavirus hosted by a learned temple member from his winter home in Florida. Trust me, I’m no expert: when someone spoke about getting the correct link by downloading the Zoom app, I was totally floored.
So you can imagine my surprise when one of our temple members called me after the program asking for help. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “No, he answered. I was told to call you because they said you’re the expert.”
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.