I was honored to be invited to the Bat Mitzvah of one of our students a few weeks ago, a girl who has the most beautiful face and angelic smile. She has tremendous difficulty making eye contact—I wonder how the photos will come out, because she usually can’t even look at a camera to take a picture. And she has a lot of difficulty putting her words together. She speaks very softly—at just over a whisper, and often struggles to find the words she is looking for.
There were at least two tables of her teachers at the Bat Mitzvah. The family had invited not only friends, but all of her past teachers from all of her years at SINAI Schools, and every therapist—speech, OT, behavioral—she had worked with in her life.
When it came time for her to make her speech, she stood at the microphone, and softly read it, slowly and clearly, with the words projected on the screen behind her for all of us to read.
I knew she had been working on her speech for months and months, because when I had visited the school about 2 months ago, I asked her about her upcoming Bat Mitzvah, and she told me she was practicing her speech. I remember—because it was so touching—that she said (in maybe two sentences) how Moses did not want to go to Pharaoh because he had a hard time speaking, but he did it anyway, and from that we should learn never to give up just because things seem too hard.
What her teachers told me afterward was that it wasn’t just writing the speech with her that they—together with her parents—had worked on, it was months of practicing how to recite it, slowly, loudly, with the right pauses and inflection. Apparently her copy of the speech was covered in highlights and notes as her reading cues.
So of course everyone gave her an enormous ovation, and then there was dancing, which was beautiful, because she twirled around and around in her fancy dress, with friends and with her twin brother. But what I found the MOST memorable moment of the evening was when we came back to the tables for her mother’s speech. Her mother spoke about the amazing support network their family has, and thanked many people.
And when she was done, the Bat Mitzvah girl stood up at her table, and announced “I want to say something.” I can’t imagine how we heard her—it must have been in that moment immediately after her mother stopped speaking. Anyway, it took everyone by surprise. Her father was standing a table away, and I caught his face which had that smiling but “oh my goodness, what on earth is she about to say and do I need to stop it” look.
And this little girl, who normally can’t talk above a whisper, said, “I just…want to thank…Ms. Santiago and…Mrs. Berkovich…for…helping me with my speech…. And…” And once again the father again had that look on his face, “I want to thank…my Ima and Abba for…making…my Bat Mitzvah.” It was amazing. Completely unscripted—she struggled for the words but got them out. And even without a microphone, in that large room we all could hear every word.
SINAI Schools is grateful to Federation of Northern New Jersey for funding our Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program in its entirety.