Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Emily Kaplan on Noah (and Glee)

My Torah portion begins by telling us that Noah was considered a “good and righteous man in his generation.” The commentators were confused. Why does the Torah need to specify that he was good in his generation?

There are two main possibilities: One is that he was an OK guy for his generation, just average; nothing when compared to great leaders who lived in other generations, like Abraham. The other possibility is that because Noah lived in a time where everyone else was bad, it was much harder for anyone to rise above it. So just being average in Noah’s time was in fact very hard – and very heroic.

I know how hard it is to rise above the crowd, especially when many of the people are not nice. I’ve seen it in lots of places. Even on TV and in the movies.

As with just about every teenage girl in America, and a good number of boys too, my favorite TV show is Glee. The show features a small high school singing group, consisting mostly of kids who don’t really fit in socially. A lot of the students are mean to them, especially some of the cheerleaders, like Quinn, who thinks she’s soooo perfect. But the Glee students continue to do what they love, and they are able to rise above all the hatred. Unlike Abraham, who might have tried to reach out to help change their attitudes, the Glee kids are more like Noah. They try to ignore it, they stay together and stick up for each other and simply enjoy the music.

This past year, I saw a movie where a teenage girl faced a much more difficult challenge. I had already read “The Devil’s Arithmetic” and couldn’t wait to see it in Hebrew School. Sadly, I got sick that week and missed it. But fortunately, Mrs. Hammerman offered a special screening at her house for those who had missed the class, so I got to see it. In the story, Hannah doesn’t see the point about having to remember the past, until she is transported back into history and lands in a Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. In the end, she is willing to sacrifice her life so that another family member – her aunt – will live. As with Noah, being in the worst of times brought the best in her.

Now, I’m very lucky not to live in the time of Noah or during the Holocaust. People are a lot nicer now. But there are still ways for me to rise above the crowd and go above and beyond just being average. When I was in fifth grade, I went to my parents and told them I wanted to go to Hebrew School. A bunch of my friends were coming here and I thought it would be nice to be a part of the community. I also just wanted to learn more about all the traditions of my heritage that I would hear about at home and when my extended family got together for holidays. Every year we would go to my grandmother’s and my cousins would say the prayers and I wanted to learn how to do that too.

So we came here and I knew how hard it would be to catch up with Hebrew and everything. It took me a whole week! Actually, I’m still catching up, in a way, but I was really motivated, so I did learn the Hebrew alphabet in only a few days. It was not an easy decision to make but I’m so glad that I made it. And although becoming bat mitzvah was not the main reason behind my choice, it feels great to be here today.

Now that I am a bat mitzvah, I understand how important it is to take responsibility for my actions and to care for those around me. I’m doing that through my mitzvah project, which to raise money for the Leukemia – Lymphoma Society. I’m also volunteering at the Rippowam Animal Hospital.

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