Not being firmly grounded in Judaism always bothered Carissa Steefel. So when her twins were born, she and her husband, Jeffrey, hoped to instill a love of Jewish spirituality in their children.
Not being firmly grounded in Judaism always bothered Carissa Steefel of Milton, Mass. So when her twins were born, she and her husband, Jeffrey, hoped to instill a love of Jewish spirituality in their children. Samantha and Dylan were born three months prematurely and each weighed only 2 pounds.
This June they will be 13, and more than a dozen family members will travel to witness the twins’ B’nai Mitzvah at The Western Wall in Old Jerusalem.
“The traditional thing to do in the U.S. is to have a bar mitzvah and a big party afterward. But my dream was always to have their B’nai Mitzvah in Israel,” said their mother.
The trip is meaningful to Samantha, a seventh-grader who still wants a party.
“I like any celebration and it’s a celebration of being a Jewish woman,” she said.
The historical ties of the Jewish coming-of-age tradition appeal to her brother.
“I think it would be more spiritual to have the ceremony in the land of your ancestors,’’ Dylan said. ‘‘I’m proud that I can complete a ritual that many other Jews have completed in my ancestry.”
The twins’ understanding of their culture and religion was nurtured through Jewish studies, learning Hebrew and stories from the Torah. They had tutors and for a while attended the Rashi School in Newton, Mass.
Cultural confidence is a gift, according to their mother: “I never had a very good Jewish education when I was growing up. Now they can walk into any synagogue in the world and feel comfortable.”
A spiritual mindfulness to help others is part of their training. To prepare for their B’nai Mitvah, the twins will perform acts of community service.
On April 11 Samantha will lead a nature walk through the Blue Hills as a fundraiser for Pink-Link, a breast cancer support network.
Simon the therapy dog is Dylan’s project. The family springer spaniel is getting certified as a therapy dog.
“I’m going to go to different hospitals after he’s certified and help comfort people,” he said.
The weekly Shabbat is family time and reinforces the link between past and present. According to their mother, the Friday meal becomes a form of worship recalling a time when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and Jews had no place to gather because of persecution. The dining table served as a safe haven for family prayer.
The Jewish holidays are meaningful to the Steefel twins.
“Some of my friends think Passover is boring, but I say it’s not about just eating or just seeing your family, it’s the symbolism of the Exodus,” said 12-year old Samantha.
This year Passover occurs March 29, and over Seder, the Steefel family will celebrate the story of Exodus when God, through Moses, led the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage. God sent 10 plagues to force Pharoah to release the Israelites, and the last one, the death of the Egyptians’ first-born, finally forced Pharoah’s hand.
To remain safe, the Jews were instructed by Moses to mark their doorways with lamb’s blood as a sign for God to pass over their homes during the final plague.
The foods of Seder symbolize the historic event. Haroset, a paste of apples and nuts, symbolizes the brick mortar and the relentless labor by Jewish slaves to build Egypt. Matzoh is the unleavened bread the Israelites brought during their sudden departure, which did not allow time for bread to rise. Eggs symbolize life.
“The parsley or celery you dip in saltwater, it’s for the tears and cries of the Jewish people of what they went through,” said Samantha.
Her mother added, “Also, we honor the blood of the firstborn Egyptians by spilling wine on our plate.”
Through ritual and education, the Steefels seek to instill in their children an appreciation of the spirituality of the Jewish experience. For them, it is an unbroken heritage, a history rich with meaning and hope.
Looking forward to the Seder, their mother said, “It’s the coolest thing that Jewish people all over the world are having this special dinner on this night. That if you look outside at the moon, that’s the same moon our ancestors looked at 5,000 years ago.” Soon in early summer, standing before the Western Wall in Old Jerusalem, Samantha and Dylan as newly minted adults will connect with the past and forge another link.
Suzette Martinez Standring is the award-winning author of “The Art of Column Writing” and is syndicated with GateHouse News. She teaches writing workshops nationally. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.