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Operation Bat Mitzvah

Operation Bat Mitzvah

First came the date for the bat mitzvah. Marcy Marbut and her parents picked that out three years ago.

Then the invitations. They were mailed out a month and a half ago.

And there was the bat mitzvah tutor, the party planner, the outfit for the simcha and other details.

"This was very organized: everything was planned," Marcy said. "The only thing I didn’t plan on was getting sick."

The snag: a ruptured appendix.

On Feb. 27, five days before her long-planned bat mitzvah and her "Texas theme" party, she began to feel sick. The next day surgeons at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side saved her life.

"What about my bat mitzvah?" she thought. "I didn’t have much of a chance."

Marcy, who recently turned 13 and attends a private school in Manhattan, was wrong about that.

Two days after the surgery she started to feel better ("I have a very pain-tolerant body") and on Saturday she celebrated her religious coming of age, as planned.

But instead of the sanctuary at Temple Emanu-El, the Marbut family’s congregation, the site was Lenox Hill’s Einhorn Auditorium, a hall usually reserved for medical conferences and learned lectures.

Marcy, an IV attached to her left arm, was wheeled into the room to a standing ovation by 120 guests and members of the hospital staff. In front of her parents, Margo and Bob, she read her Torah portion in a Havdalah ceremony, with the proper blessings.

Rabbi David Posner of Temple Emanu-El led everyone in reciting the Shechecheyanu prayer. There was singing and shouts of "Mazel tov!"

"It was the first bat mitzvah we’ve ever had at Lenox Hill," said Terry Cooper, a registered nurse who works on Marcy’s floor.

It all happened, Marcy said early this week, sitting in her hospital room surrounded by balloons and gift baskets and a "forest of flowers," sometimes watching TV and hosting visitors and walking around to regain her strength, because her mother willed it to happen. Marcy was feeling fine this week.

"Just a little itch, which is my scar," she said.

But her physicians, wanting her to spend a full week on the IV before resuming the eating of solid food, delayed her release.

"My mom said we could bring the temple here," Marcy said of the plan to have a bat mitzvah in the hospital. "I said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ "Margo Marbut contacted Rabbi Posner, who had comforted Marcy by phone while she was being wheeled into surgery. He immediately agreed to conduct the bat mitzvah ceremony at Lenox Hill. Marcy’s doctors gave their go-ahead. The hospital found the space.

The guests had to be informed about the change in venue.

"People called people," Marcy said. "Mom called a cousin who called her best friend who …"

"I didn’t want her to be wounded for life, emotionally hurt" by the memory of a postponed bat mitzvah, Margo Marbut said of her decision to ask the hospital for permission to hold the ceremony on its premises. "Everyone at the hospital was unbelievable," she said. "The hospital got behind it in a very significant and major way."

Dr. Francisca Velcek, Marcy’s surgeon, approved the plan because her patient’s recuperation was "beyond our expectations. It was very unusual, but sometimes you have to do unusual things.

"I knew that she wanted to do it," she said. "I knew it meant so much to Marcy. I knew it meant so much to her parents."

So on Saturday at dusk, Marcy was wheeled into the auditorium.

"All I had to do was show up," she said, smiling at the memory of the standing ovation.

Rabbi Posner brought a siddur and a small Torah scroll, about a foot-high, which he keeps in his study.

"I never say no to a member of Temple Emanu-El," the rabbi said.

Marcy says she was "really nervous. All eyes were focused on me.

"I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me because I didn’t feel sorry for myself."

In her speech, she thanked the doctors and nurses "who saved my life."

"Mom was crying," she said.

Rabbi Posner pointed out that the Torah portion, Terumah, and the section from the following week’s portion, Tetzaveh, which Marcy read, concerned the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary the freed Hebrew slaves carried in the wilderness.

"It’s almost eerie," Marcy said.

She said everyone clapped for her, and people came up to congratulate her.

"I was beaming from ear to ear," she said.

"Nobody lifted me up," as celebrants usually do at a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah, "because they’d have to lift my wheelchair and IV."

Why didn’t Marcy simply hold her bat mitzvah at a later date, when she was fully recovered?

That’s not her family’s style, she said.

"Mom and Dad taught me that when something bad happens, with a can-do attitude you can do miracles," she said. "This was my miracle."

Marcy said she received lots of jewelry as gifts, but "the best gift was having my bat mitzvah."

"I had been working on my Torah portion for a long time," she said, and didn’t want to start over. "If I did it another week, it would be another Torah portion."

Rabbi Posner, who noted that this was his first hospital bat mitzvah, said she was able to do everything she had prepared to do.

"There is a wonderful spirit about her," he said. "Thank God it all worked out."

"She was tough," Cooper said.

Margo Marbut called it "a perfect moment in life."

Marcy said she was "extremely proud."

"I think I will remember this my entire life," she said. "Nobody has even been at a hospital bat mitzvah before."

The party will come "later this year: same theme, different invitations."

When she is released from Lenox Hill, Marcy will return to seventh-grade classes. And back to horseback riding and running on her school’s track team.

First, a piece of bat mitzvah challah. She couldn’t eat it, or anything solid, at the ceremony.

"Mom froze a piece of challah," Marcy said. "I’m going to eat it as soon as I get out."

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