When I was preparing for Harry's Bar Mitzvah about seven years ago, I put these words on his invitation:
We carry the past in our hands.
To me, one of the most significant and meaningful aspects of the Bar Mitzvah rite of passage is its value to us as a historical and cultural tradition. Jews are constantly recalling the past. Every service has us singing songs and praying prayers that have been passed down for generations, if not eons. Every Rosh Hashanah we hear the sound of the shofar (the ram's horn trumpet blown at the end of the service), a sound that pierces the soul, which you can imagine being blown from the mountaintops of the Promised Land millennia ago, calling the tribes to prayer. The words Toby learned to read and chant from the Torah are the same words with the same melody read for thousands of years by our ancestors.
In a world where everything feels so immediate, and often so ephemeral, it's something else to stop and realize that you are carrying on a tradition that began over 5,000 years ago. The tradition of your people.
I have always felt very connected to my Judaism, my Jewishness. Even though I was raised in a secular Jewish home (no belief in God) and attended a secular Jewish kindershul (history and culture, no religion, per se), I always felt wholly Jewish. When I married Mark I cemented that feeling. He was a New York Jew, and his Jewish identity was a given for the most part.
Our kids have grown up in a very assimilated world, but we have always kept a Jewish consciousness for them at home. Synagogue, Hebrew school, music, holidays, family events, conversation, traditions, rituals, foods, values. All that is tightly woven into our lives. We aren't the most observant nor the most consistent with our practices, but we do have a tradition.
So it was that a few days before Toby's big day it suddenly hit me that I had not added anything special to his service and as the "cantorial soloist" for the service and the mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy, it was my prerogative to do so. I searched my files and files of songs, but it didn't take long to decide on L'Dor va Dor by Josh Nelson. I've loved this song for several years and it was just the message that I wanted to share.
The passing along of the tradition. The history of our people. The role Toby was playing in the line of his ancestors. All of that is so important to me.
In addition, this song is so beautiful and easy to sing and most of it is in English. We had a lot of friends there who could not access the prayers and songs in Hebrew. I wanted this message to be shared and understood. I wanted to move people with this prayer.
It was an excellent choice. Many people have told me that they loved it and would love to hear it again. I am always glad to introduce a new and beautiful piece of Jewish music to my community.
Here are the words. The video, above, is Josh Nelson, the composer and an amazing musician.
L'Dor va Dor
by Josh Nelson
We are gifts and we are blessings
We are history in song
We are hope and we are healing
We are learning to be strong
We are words and we are stories
We are pictures of the past
We are carriers of wisdom
Not the first and not the last
L’dor va-dor nagid gad-lecha
L’dor vador, we protect this chain
From generation to generation
L’dor vador, these lips will praise Your name
Looking back on the journey
That we carried in our hearts
From the shadow of the mountain
To the waters that would part
We are blessed
And we are holy
We are children of Your way
And the words that bring us meaning
We will have the strength to say