I have been preparing for my oldest son’s bar mitzvah since he was born. During his first Shabbos on earth, which he and I spent in the hospital (just the two of us, alone, together) I read his Torah portion out loud to him, excited to see that it contained both the “Shema” and the Ten Commandments. I remember thinking, “Oh good! This will be so easy for him to learn.”
Nine years later, during the Rio Olympics, I realized that his bar mitzvah would take place in the middle of the Tokyo Olympics, and since we live in Toco Hills, the lightbulb went off in my head that our theme should be “Toco 2020.” I immediately searched the internet for Olympics-themed paper goods. Yes, it was four years early, but I’m a planner and love a good sale!
Fast forward four years: pandemic. No Tokyo 2020. No Toco 2020.
I have mourned many things during this pandemic. Cancelled trips. Not being able to hold my dear friend’s new baby. The reality that my 40th birthday will be spent sheltering in place. I’ve also mourned the loss of Toco 2020. The theme that could have been. The bar mitzvah that I’d planned would never happen. No extended family, no party, no community celebration.
What happened in its place was something beautiful. Thanks to the incredible leadership at Congregation Beth Jacob, my son had his bar mitzvah on time and in the presence of his closest family and a few friends. As he skillfully read his portion, the same one we read together 13 years earlier in that hospital room, I came to the realization that things were exactly as they should be. Instead of focusing on multiple events, lots of out-of-town guests and a million logistics, all we focused on was my son and the important milestone he had reached. No distractions; just pride.
Nachum Ish Gam Zu, a noted sage from Talmudic times, is famous for approaching all situations with the saying, gam zu l’tova, this too is for the good. This has been my go-to saying for years, as I always try to find the positive in any situation, even when it’s difficult to see. It took me many months until I found the gam zu l’tova in the pandemic, but sitting in shul that day, it became blatantly clear.
My prayer for all of us is that the year ahead will be filled with silver linings, open miracles, and blessings in disguise.
Rachel Wasserman is the executive director of Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.