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Amid Marathon Bombings, A Girl With Down Syndrome Becomes A Bat Mitzvah

Amid Marathon Bombings, A Girl With Down Syndrome Becomes A Bat Mitzvah

Last week’s Torah reading consisted of two parshiot: Acharei Mot (“After the Death”) and Kedoshim (“Holy Ones”). I cannot but think that these passages perfectly encapsulated the events last week.

On Monday, our community was rocked by the senseless bombings at the Boston Marathon. As the week progressed, more violence ensued until one suspect’s life came to an end and the second was captured.

While we were still in the midst of trying to process the events, we were brought together in celebration for our student, Ashley, becoming a bat mitzvah. Unfortunately due to the lockdown that was in place on Friday, Temple Shalom of Newton – which was supposed to have a Shabbat service and dinner for Ashley’s family and friends – was closed. As the ban lifted shortly before Shabbat, the family and caterer quickly scrambled to host the guests at their home.

Luckily, by Shabbat morning the temple was reopened and Ashley’s service could continue as planned, albeit under the cloud of what had occurred.

But then the service began. And Ashley, armed with her visual schedule and Gateways’ binder to aid her, recited the blessings and chanted from the Torah. She grasped the yad in her hand and pointed with precision to each word of the text. At the end of each phrase, she glanced into the congregation and beamed with pride at her guests, and even snuck in an occasional wave.

At the point in a typical bat mitzvah where the student would give a 5-10 minute dvar Torah, Ashley had a dialogue with her Rabbi about the meaning of her parashah (she choose to focus on Kedoshim) instead. This is a strategy that we have developed for our b’nei mitzvah students which (using a script with picture symbols that they have rehearsed) enables them to successfully explain their parshah’s meaning in their own words. According to Ashley, the three big ideas in her portion were: being holy, honoring her parents, and keeping Shabbat.

As Rabbi Eric Gurvis so poignantly pointed out in his remarks, her portions were a symbol of the duality of our week: we came from a place of extreme darkness and destruction into holiness.

The lifting of the ban made Ashley’s milestone of becoming a bat mitzvah all the more holy for our community.

Arlene Remz is the Executive Director of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. Ashley, who has Down Syndrome, participates in Gateways’ Sunday Program and B’nei Mitzvah Program.

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