Approaching age 70, my mother decided to have a Bas Mitzvah. This rite of passage marks a Jewish girl’s taking on of the 613 commandments embodied in the Torah. In most congregations, a person demonstrates readiness for this passage by a certain level of learning, and in particular, the ability to read and interpret a portion, or parsha, from the Torah. A person can perform this rite at any age, though the typical age is 12 or 13. In 1928, in Detroit, when my mother was 12, the idea of the Bas Mitzvah had not yet been conceived. And so it was 1985 before she decided to pursue her dream of Jewish learning.
To prepare for a Bas Mitzvah, a person must learn the vowel-less Hebrew used in the Torah. Also, to strictly observe tradition, she must study cantillation and tropes, the ancient systems of fusing speech with melody. And so my mother began. She studied with a rabbi, she received her parsha, and she had a date for her Bas Mitzvah, when she would chant for the congregation.
She loved her parsha. She chanted it throughout her day–while she swept floors, made beds, folded laundry, cooked supper. When I visited, I heard her humming the melody as she dressed in the morning. If she woke at night, anxious, she lifted her cassette recorder from the bedside table, put on her headphones, and listened to the parsha tape, humming quietly so she wouldn’t disturb my father.
But my mother never chanted her parsha to the congregation. One February morning, only months before her Bas Mitzvah, she arrived at her health club, changed into her workout clothes, and felt the killing chest pains. By night, she was gone.
I believe that one can wait too long to fulfill a dream. And, in turn, I believe in diligence. In 2004, I had been working on becoming a writer for almost ten years. During all those years, Sunday mornings were my time to write, and I allowed no excuses or interruptions. Gradually, my short stories and essays were accepted in literary magazines, and I accumulated awards and fellowships. And one day, I recognized the novelistic potential of one of my short stories, so I began writing almost every night after dinner as well, feeling a sense of urgency, pursuing a dream.
During this time, my husband and I went out for an evening with friends, and I told this story of my mother and her Bas Mitzvah. As I did, I felt its connection with my urgency about the novel. It was the fear of waiting too long. Thus, when we got home, my husband suggested that I set aside my career as an editor for a time and focus on the book.
Now I am 60—old for a debut—but I felt the urgency, responded with diligence, and now, trying not to be morbid, I await the July publication of my first novel.
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