Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Rebecca Friedlander on Rosh Hodesh

Two years ago, I decided to play basketball with the Stamford Young Timers basketball league.  I’ve always liked playing basketball and I really liked being a part of a team.  Last year we were undefeated and won the championship.
Even though we were undefeated, it wasn’t without a lot of hard work.  For me, that meant working on my shooting, dribbling, and rebounding.  In the first couple of games I didn’t score any points.  But then the next game I scored six points and then after that I kept on improving.
The key to improving is practice.  Nothing comes without practice.  We’ve all heard the expression, “practice makes perfect.”  It supposedly can be traced back to the 16th century and even before that to a Latin phrase which means, “Use makes perfect.” (I would quote it for you here, but it would take a lot of practice!)  It first appears in American literature in John Adams’ diary in 1761. 
I love this saying because I try to live that way.  My basketball team practices all the time.  We do lots of drills and go over plays and we run laps – and the practice doesn’t just improve our skills but it also helps us to come together as a team.
The Hebrew word for practice is related to the word for experience.  Experience and repetition develop a comfort level.  That’s what practice is all about.
I’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of repetition when it has come to practicing for my Bat Mitzvah.  Over time, and with lots of practice, I’ve become more comfortable with my torah readings and prayers.  And standing up here today, it feels like taking the last shot in the championship game – and sinking it!
Aside from bat mitzvah, we talk about practice in other aspects of being Jewish.   When people talk about customs and rituals like prayer and holidays, or wearing a tallit like I am today, they talk about it as Jewish practice.  We call it our practice because we do it over and over – and the more you do it, the more comfortable you are with it and the better you get at it. 
A prayer like the Ashrei gets easier and easier when you’ve done it many times.
There are other things we need to practice.  We have to practice being nice.  It doesn’t always come naturally.  In fact it never comes naturally.  A baby isn’t naturally nice.  Just ask the parent who is trying to sleep through the night.  We all have to be taught how to be considerate.  And then we have to practice it.
                The easiest thing to do when someone is bothering you is to bother them right back.  But I’ve learned how important it is to not give in to that temptation, and “just let it go” and be nice.   If someone is mean to you or hurts you, the next day just say to them “Let’s just forget about this and move on.”
In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hodesh is like a mini Rosh Hashanah.  Every month we get to start over again.  Just as the moon starts again from scratch, on Rosh Hodesh we start with a clean slate.  We get to practice being nice all over again.
One way to practice being nice is through mitzvah projects like mine:  I was involved in the Mitzvah Volunteer Program with the Friendship Circle, working with children with special needs.  I also set up a tribute website, sold bracelets and rubber ducks to raise money for an organization called “Autism Speaks.”  Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders and to funding research, and treatments for individuals with Autism.  To date, I have raised over one thousand five hundred dollars.

I’m dedicating this project to my cousins, Carly and Adam who have taught me how to practice being more sensitive to the needs of individuals with special needs.  And, while practice may not always make perfect, it has certainly made me a better person!

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