Those of you who know me know that I love history, I love to collect things and most of all, I love to read. So it’s no surprise when, in 2nd grade, I heard about the American Girl Dolls and their books. I begged grandma and grandpa to get me one for my birthday. Friends of my grandma and grandpa know that they love to spoil their oldest granddaughter . . . so before you know it, there I was, in the American Girl store on Broadway, holding my first American Girl doll.
My first American Girl was specially ordered to look just like me. Most American Girl dolls are created to represent how people lived in America in different times. You can also get some boy dolls, but it’s more a girl thing, and they are designed to help instill pride and confidence among girls. As I began collecting the dolls, I realized each one represented something unique about me. What I didn’t know at the time was that they also represent different lessons taught in my Torah portion.
Take Rebecca, for example (hold up picture). I can relate to her. Rebecca has to deal with the challenges of being Jewish in a country where most people are Christian. She lived in the Lower East Side of New York City in 1912 and her grandparents speak Yiddish. She comes from a large family, with four sisters and her dad owns a shoe shop. Her family always celebrates Shabbat – and Shabbat is a key concept in my portion.
I also can really relate to Addy (hold up picture), who is African American. She lived in the north after the Civil War, having been a slave when she was a young child. My portion talks about the slaves that existed in Biblical times and how important it was to treat them with dignity and let them go free after seven years. It’s interesting that I can relate to her in another way as well. My great grandfather was a slave in Mississippi. I never met him but he died just a few years ago at the age of 103. So I have had slaves on both sides of my family, only on my Dad’s side, it was in biblical times.
And then there’s Felicity, who lived during the Revolutionary War in Yorktown. Did you know that a verse from my portion was engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia? “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” It’s true that the verse only applied to white males until the 1900s, but it helped inspire our founding fathers to free themselves from the British.
And then there’s Kit, who loves baseball, like me. She lived in Chicago during the Great Depression, which was similar to our time, because the economy isn’t doing too well now either. But she was able to get by on her quick wits, and the help of family and friends. My portion talks about the importance of the community in supporting those in need – when lending money, we are supposed to treat others in fairness and compassion.
Then there’s Molly, who lived during World War Two. One of her friends is a girl from England, who was sent here by her parents to escape the war. It was a time of food stamps and Molly couldn’t always get what she wanted. Her dad was a soldier in the war – like my grandpa, who served during the Korean war, and my great uncles Marty and Leonard, who fought in World War Two. And of course my dad is in the Army now.
Finally, Julie. She lived way back in 1976, before they invented the cell phone! She learned that she shouldn’t judge people, having befriended a girl who was hearing impaired. She also loved animals and the environment, as I do. And my portion does too! It talks about the need to give the land a chance to rest every seven years. Also, I can relate to Julie in one other way. She likes to speak her mind!
And, yes, I’ve read most of the American Girl books.
For my mitzvah projects, I am donating to the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps soldiers that were wounded or physically impaired while fighting in wars. It helps them to regain their confidence as they struggle to return to normal life. The Wounded Warrior Project helps them physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m also supporting the “Hole in the Wall Gang.” My mom, brother and I are all carriers of Sickle Cell Anemia, and this camp helps children with serious diseases like that one, as well as cancer and many others.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Monday, May 16, 2011
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Alexa Baer on Behar
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