Rabbi Lister, Grandparents, dearest cousins and friends, welcome to Hadassah’s/Dassi’s Bat Mitzvah celebration. Thank you for coming to join us, from the distant and not so distant homes that you inhabit. It is as wonderful to see Dassi’s great-aunt Yalu, who has flown in specially from Ramat Hasharon as it is to see her uncle Guy who is here from the other side of London, as well as both sets of her grandparents, who also join us from the rather nearer suburbs of Golders Green and Finchley. Your presence (and everyone else in-between) is what makes this day so very special for all of us. However, it is also very sad that Dassi’s maternal great grandmother Savta Shchora (who we think is approaching her 100th birthday) cannot be here to share in the celebrations, although she is in our thoughts at this joyous time.
We are all here, each and every one of us to celebrate the bat-mitzvah of one very unique young lady – Hadassah. I am sure that Rabbi Lister will smile when I say that everyone who is standing here today, is doing so because, “you are all worth it”. Hadassah, your mother in particular, must be saluted before I launch into my two and a half hour speech (only kidding), because to be frank, without her tireless (and quite incredible) work on the “Bat Mitzvah project”, we might have celebrated your Bat Mitzvah in the garden, on the trampoline, with bowlfuls of cereal (a very popular dish in our household).
Everything that you see here, every part of the celebration, starting with the design of the beautiful invitations is Dana’s doing (OK, I did help a little!) and I could not even begin to describe the kind of mess we would have experienced, had I been in charge. So Dana, kol hakavod, this Bat-Mitzvah has your name engraved in every nook, cranny and detail. Tali, Michal and Shira, your oceans of patience and understanding regarding the fuss your older sister has brought about is extremely impressive. You can be very proud of her and indeed yourselves. You are all incredible young ladies!
Hadassah, you spoke less than an hour ago and the thoughts that made up your beautiful Bat Mitzvah Dvar Torah resonated, not only around the room, but also inside the hearts and minds of everyone who was privileged to hear them. And yes, it really was a privilege.
You are not only our Joseph - you also have the qualities that make up every single member of his family, from his great-grandfather Avraham Avinu (the Patriarch Abraham) through to his little brother Binyamin. Chazal (the Rabbis of old) tell us that the brothers, far from being the rogues that are presented in popular culture, were in fact very fine individuals, from whom the entire Jewish nation would later descend. Their sin, though reprehensible, ultimately led them down to Egypt and to the future Exodus (Yetziat Mizrayim) which we recall in such vivid detail on the Seder Nights.
In fact, had the brothers not decided to go ahead with their plan, I wonder whether we would be standing here today, discussing their machinations!
Hadassah, I know that you probably won’t enjoy the next part of my speech because you don’t like being the centre of attention, but I would be amiss if I didn’t address these words to you.
Before you burst onto the scene, as they say, I didn't know what it was like to be a father. I had always been the son and grandson. This was a new status, a new place to be in.
So, what does a father do? What does he feel like? What can he do to make sure he doesn't mess up someone else's life? What rules must he follow to get it right? All these questions had no responses and in a way, still don't.
Dassi , you made some of the answers easier to work out.
From Day One, you were a free spirit, an independent little person who knew exactly what she wanted. You could fight your corner but at the same time, show incredible generosity to others around you. You were going to be special and we were all aware of it. In short, you were and are a smart, sassy, serious and unique young lady.
But who are you really?
Well, for one thing, you are fast – in fact the fastest person at the Michael Sobell Sinai School – as proven with your lightning wins in last summer’s races. I hear that it took a good five minutes to extinguish the flames you left in your tracks (and I know you’ll appreciate that comment, granted your fondness of the Back To The Future films).
You are certainly very popular. I can vouch for this, if my petrol tank expenses are to be believed, granted the number of miles I drive to ferry you to your weekly (or is it daily) Bat Mitzvah celebrations!
(As Rabbi Lister said in his beautiful speech,) you are an amazing actress! Your Yenta in the summer school production was nothing short of revelatory (and if anyone in the audience knows a Hollywood Agent….) I remember feeling the need to look at a mirror to remind myself that I was your father and not your son, granted your incredible turn as the aged Yenta.
You are the kind of person who made for an excellent choice of school counsellor, peer mediator and play leader at your last school! The teachers there saw the kind of person you are – what more can I add?
And finally, your short stay (to date) at the Hasmonean, has already resulted in the receipt of a lovely letter from the school, extolling your virtues as a student. All this, before the clocks were set back for the winter!
Hadassah, you are a star. Not only the kind that Joseph’s brothers bowed down to, but also the variety which illuminates the sky and shares the light bestowed upon it by the Sun, with all its neighbours.
And talking about light, I cannot but be amazed at how the theme of light runs through your life to date. Indeed, you came into our world on the day when we read about the very first light Hashem (G-d) created in the sky – Shabbat Bereshit and here we are, just a few months later, celebrating the lights that illuminate the Chanukah skyline. These link directly to the very first Or (light) that Hashem created – "Vayomer Hashem Yehi Or" and G-d said “let there be light” and 12 years ago, you were the light that entered into all our lives.
In fact, you were born on the Shabbat that coincided with the 18th anniversary of my late paternal grandfather’s (petirah) passing. My darling bonpapa, Charles E. Wolf was niftar (passed away) on erev Shabbat Bereshit (the eve of Shabbat Bereishit) at the criminally young age of 74. I remember my father telling me on that terrible Shabbat, through his tears , something I have never forgotten – how in Parshat Bereishit, G-d created man and how tragically, had chosen to take a very special man away on the eve of the same day.
If we take the letters of your name- Hey, Dalet, Samech and Hey and use gematria (the system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other – thank you Wikipedia) we can work out that hey is equal to five, dalet is four, samech is 60 and the final Hey is 5, which as the mathematicians amongst you will have already worked out comes to the sum of 74 - your name and my grandfather’s years on earth are identical.
You, my sweet Hadassah are the embodiment of my late grandfather. You came 18 years (18 being numerically equivalent to Chay (the word for life) after his death and re-lit the light that had been extinguished from my life when he left us.
I only wish that both he and my other grandparents, Philip and Hetty Vecht (of blessed memory) and my grandmother Laura (OBM), had lived long enough to see you blossom and grow. I know that I speak for Dana when I also mention her grandparents, Lazi and Richi Beresiner (OBM) and Shimon Goldman (OBM) and envision the pride they would have felt today. You, Hadassah, are their legacy.
Rabbis, family and friends, I finish where I started and ask you to please eat, drink and enjoy the occasion. It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the simchah with you all and may we only continue to enjoy such precious moments -(till the age of 120).
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!