Wednesday, October 21, 2015
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Zoë Jaffe-Berkowitz on Noah
As many of you know, I’ve been doing taekwondo for about 4 years. If I’ve stuck to it for that long, there must be a reason that I like it so much. Well there is. About a year and half ago I tested for my black belt. To me, this was not just a test to see if my skill was at a black belt level, but was also a test of willpower. There were many challenging things I had to do at and leading up to the test. The week before I went to the real test, I was required to do a meditation. But this was no ordinary meditation, I had to sit in a room with the lights off for a full hour, without moving or talking. This meditation was supposed to help me prepare my mind for the test. For the beginning of it I felt relaxed and thought the meditation was really working, but after about 20 minutes all I could think was, “Get me out of this room,” or, “Ugh! My foot is falling asleep.” Even though I didn’t want to continue with the meditation I knew I had to or else I would not be able to test the following week.
I realized from this, that taekwondo was not only about what you can do physically, but also mentally. If I had not been able to control myself during the meditation, I would not be at the level I am at today. I had to have the strength to tell myself to sit completely still when, frankly, I had no interest in being there at that moment.
Another major challenge that I had to overcome to earn my black belt was breaking a brick. Now I know what you are all thinking, that’s impossible, which is exactly what I thought. When the test came around I was confident about everything… except for the part where I had to break the brick. When the end of the test came near, we got to the time that I was dreading. I was standing up in front of over 70 people, ready to break the brick, but I kept hearing a little voice in the back of my head saying that it was impossible and that I would never be able to do it. And of course, because I had this attitude, I was not able to break the brick.
Luckily I was able to schedule a retest for the brick breaking. When I arrived at the retest the following week, one of the assistant teachers pulled me aside. He said that I had to believe that I could break the brick and then I would be able to. If I put more confidence into what I was doing I’ll be able to do it. So I took his words of advice and this time when I went up in front of the crowd, I felt better about myself. And on the very first try of that retest I broke the brick. It felt like I had done the impossible.
This really showed me the power of the human spirit. I broke through barriers that I never thought were possible. And that is why I love taekwondo so much. It teaches me that if I have confidence I can do it. As long as I have the right attitude and I am willing to work hard enough I can achieve anything. It’s really about the power of the mind and spirit in helping you overcome any obstacle.
I have seen this in other areas of my life as well. For my bat mitzvah project I volunteer with the friendship circle. At first I did a training program where we learned about various special needs and different activities we could do with different kinds of people. After I completed this training I was asked if I would like to participate in the friends at home program, which is when you are assigned a “special” friend and go to their house for an hour every week. Of course I accepted the offer.
My buddy’s name is coincidentally Zoe. She can’t talk. But even though she has this major obstacle in her life, it doesn’t prevent her from having fun. Whenever I go over to her house she always has a huge smile on her face.
But Zoe isn’t the only one who has inspired me with the ability to overcome challenges. What I do by breaking a brick and controlling my mind and body to accomplish things, my uncle David did every moment of his life. I was born 10 days before he died and I feel a strong connection with him. I've heard lots of stories about how he had such a great sense of humor and how he was so excited about becoming an uncle when I was born. He also became a bar mitzvah right here on this bimah. All those things took a superhuman effort for him, like my breaking a brick in two. And yet no matter how hard things were for him, he did everything with a smile. Mind over matter, just like Taekwondo.
My portion, Noah, includes the story of the tower of babel, where people tried to build a tower that would reach the heavens. The great sin of these people was that they were materialistic and selfish. They only cared about matter, such as money and the building they were creating, but they did not care about the people working on it. There is a Midrash describing how when a brick fell and broke, they would get extremely upset, but but when a person fell from the tower and died, it didn’t bother them at all, and they just continued building. The tower of babel story is about human tragedy caused by selfishness and greed whereas my black belt celebrates a triumph of the human spirit.
It is very special to me that I am becoming a bat mitzvah on the same bimah where my family has experienced so many life events. As I continue to grow it’s nice to know that I have a strong Jewish background that will always be with me and that I will have enduring support from the Jewish community at my synagogue, camp, and school.
Today is kind of like my Jewish black belt test, luckily I didn’t have to break anything. But leading the service and reading from the Torah takes the same kind of discipline, hard work, and the ability to put mind over matter. And what I’m doing today really does matter.