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Writing Mitzvah Speeches

Writing Mitzvah Speeches

I am a writer. So, when the time came to write the speech for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, it was an emotional journey for me – as you can imagine. Wait let me start again… I am an emotional writer, so when it came time to write the speech for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah I couldn’t stop crying. Is that better?

This is my first child’s Bat Mitzvah. My daughter, my baby girl, my pride, and joy. This is the little girl who used to have blonde hair, wear tiny vertical pigtails, and hold my hand as we walked up and down Third Avenue. This is the little girl whom I pushed in every swing, in every park on the Upper East Side, twice. This is the girl who always had a big smile on her face and goodness exuding through her body. One who settled into a new suburban house on a Friday and came home with new friends on Monday. Equally, this is a girl to whom I’ve never once had to say “go do your homework” or ask if she studied for a test. She just does and did, and then gets the best marks in class. This is my daughter, my baby, my dream come true, my best friend.

OK, I’m already crying.

So how do you sit down to write a speech about someone you love so much? How do you perfectly couple all of the above but also not be so “mom lame”?

Do you talk about the hours of labor you endured? First steps? First words? First shoes? First day of school? Yes. But as we know, in between all of those big moments, there are many small moments that we cannot put into words. These little moments we hold so dear, that is quite simple – life. 

When you look at your child now, it’s hard to remember them as a little baby because, in the blink of an eye, they are now this teenager (and possibly taller than you).

Hopefully, you can still see this shadow in the brooding, grunting, hoody-wearing, phone drone who now keeps their door closed. The same door they used to beg to keep open because they couldn’t fall asleep otherwise.

More crying.

Oy. How am I going to stand up and do this in front of people, twice!? Maybe I should send a prerecorded message like a celebrity Cameo.

I was recently talking to a friend who is the mom of a girl my daughter met in nursery school. We used to sit in my backyard and chat as our younger boys slept in their strollers and the girls played on the swings. I am pretty sure this was yesterday. However, actually yesterday, we coordinated carpooling to the Bat Mitzvah of another girl they met in nursery school. Neither of us understood how we got from there to here.

So, what does one say in a speech? And how does one differentiate what one says on the bema versus at the party? Two totally different “vibes.”

In thinking about this, I realized it’s really a speech with an audience of one. Because much like a montage, it is a public, tangible love letter to your child. It is a forum to humble brag, roast, and kvell with a side of “you will always be my baby.” The key is to exit stage left before someone goes looking for a hook to pull you off.

Of course, parents talk about achievements in school and extracurricular activities, but the truth is, a parent is proud of their kid no matter what they do. It’s simply pride that parents want to convey.

In writing both speeches, I found myself emphasizing different things. My temple speech was very near and dear to my heart since it is the temple my grandparents founded 70 years ago. It is a place that’s played a pivotal role my whole life – where my mom and I both became Bat Mitzvahs, my parents got married, my husband and I had our Auf Ruf, my daughter was named, and where my second son had his bris. It’s also where my grandma sang in the choir and my grandpa blew the shofar. I spoke of how my daughter standing on that bema was like her standing on the shoulders of her ancestors, and for her to feel the weight and beauty of that moment. I sprinkled in some highlights about her, her mitzvah project, and how it all came together. Plus, you know, Torah stuff. I spoke of how she is not only a legacy to our family but to our temple, and that this should all mean something to her. I also pointed out how important it is to acknowledge that we live somewhere with religious freedom and that we can openly witness our child becoming an adult in the eyes of the Jewish people.

The party speech is a total 180, and much lighter. There is a little humor, a little sentiment, and some poking fun. I say things about scholastic, athletic, and musical achievements, highlight some extracurriculars, yadda yadda yadda. Here I’m looking for a 40/60 split of touching and comical. I was trying to explain the art of a roast to my nine-year-old. I said it is a loving mock. Like he can say to her “I love our heart-to-heart chats, like when I ask you to play, and you respond” “Ugh! You’re so annoying, leave me alone.” In this speech, I just want to be funny and get the spirit up in the room. I think it is also nice to publicly highlight what makes your kid a little different and special despite their desire to just be the same as their friends.

In closing, when these speeches end, I want my audience of one to take away that she is here because of so many others, she is the next generation – now blessed to carry on our people. She is loved, we are proud, and even if she does not remember holding my hand and walking up Third Avenue, I do. Because I am and forever will be her keeper of memories. I am her mother and I will love her forever, even when she closes the door in my face. 

Stacey Wallenstein is the founder of the parenting & lifestyle blog The Mint Chip Mama. Visit her website at themintchipmama.com and find her across all socials at @themintchipmama.

Posted in Editorial, Mitzvah Advice