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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Having Faith in Our Kids

There are some days….

Our kids try hard, they really do.  For the most part, they have positive attitudes for which many parents would sell their first-borns, except that this might defeat the whole exercise.

Petya and Pasha are now 14 and sweet, strong young men, a joy to be around.  Mashenka is 12.5 and Sashenka is 10.  They are newer arrivals and still struggling with the occasional attitude or behavior, but basically, the girls are “with the program”.


We recently came up to a momentous occasion, the arrival of Mashenka’s Bat Mitzvah.  This is generally undertaken around the age of 12 for a girl, or the Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13 for boys.  It’s a coming-of-age ceremony where the Scripture is read in Hebrew for the first time in the congregation.  Then the young person makes a brief “sermon” or commentary on their life, their public service project, or their Torah portion which they have just read.  It’s not a time for goofing off on one’s studies, goofing around in a serious setting, or just plain being goofy.

Several months ago, we as the parents had to decide “yea” or “nay” on whether or not to go forward with a specific date.  I was not completely convinced that she could or would rise to the occasion.  Her English sounded like Chinese, and her Hebrew sounded like… Chinese.  At least she was consistent in that.

“Are you going to work on this?” I inquired on more than one occasion.

“Yes, Mama,” she replied.

She had seen her brothers enjoy their B’nai Mitzvah about a year and a half ago.  It was something to which she was looking forward.  Mashenka could read Hebrew, but let’s just say she did not have ultra-comprehension, as many times as I translated the verses for her.  And that might lead us to another part of the problem:  I was her tutor both for the English elocution, as well as the Hebrew portions.

Poor girl.

“Ya’akov,” I said.

“Ya’okov,” she tried to repeat.

“Ya’AHkov,” I stressed.

“Ya’AHkov,” she finally got it, and then emphasized what I did not want her to emphasize anyway.

“Right, but you can’t read it that way,” I laughed.  “It actually needs to be pronounced ‘Ya’ahKOV’.”

“Then why did we do it that way…?”

“Because you weren’t saying it right, and now you’re not saying it right… but in a different way.  Pohn’yalah?”  (Got it?)

I made her a recording of me reading both her Hebrew portions and her English speech, which she was turning into a slurred English run-walk.  No one would have any idea of what she was trying to say, I feared.  She, on her part, had no fear.

“Mama, I’ll do great, I just know it!” she enthused.

“Good, I believe it, too.  Now let’s practice again.”

Many of her pronunciations approximated Inspector Clousseau trying to say “hamburger” in a French accent.  As a matter of fact, her pronunciation of “hamburger” was very similar….

We put together a seven-minute slide show of her life, set to uplifting and spiritual music.  Naturally we had no baby photos for this older-child adoptee, but her life made up for lost times in many ways.  There were so many possibilities of photos to use that narrowing it down to under three or four hours of a show was a challenge.  She asked that we surprise her with the finished masterpiece of a movie, and her giggles of delight upon viewing it meant that we had reached our goal.

Over the months of working together, I found the two of us bonding.  She saw that we had faith in her that she would not embarrass our family forever by making a poor showing.  And even if she did, we were safe in the assurance that there were many places in the world where we could move and live the rest of our lives in obscurity and anonymity….

Upon the day of the Bat Mitzvah, she was cool and calm, excited and delighted.  We gave her a couple of small gifts that morning.  She and I dressed in coordinated colors, a sort of wine and black ensemble, what I deemed to be modest and meaningful platform attire.  Sashenka was also in the red and black tones, and the boys and her father wore red ties with their dark suits.

We talked with the children about preparing their hearts for this important day.  Yes, there would be the throwing of candy after the reading of the Scripture, but it was to be done in a respectful underhanded toss, showering sweets from above, rather than trying to wipe out any officiant involved.  The kids were great, each one encouraging Mashenka that she would be fine.

When called forward, our daughter ascended the platform with grace and gravity.  Grasping the silver pointer, she read her Hebrew verses well.  Benedetto and I stood by her side, her anchors in the midst of the storm.  Then it was time for her drasha, her sermon, in which she wished to say how much the Lord had done for her.  We would take our seats and beam at our young lady of a daughter upon the bima.

She whispered in my direction, “Stay with me,” suddenly turning nervous mid-stream.

“Ya zdyess,” (I’m here) I reassured her.

And thus, my poised daughter spoke of God rescuing her out of her own Egypt, from a life of trauma and abuse and progressively healing her of great anger over her past.

“Refaeni, Adonai, v’erafeh, hoshieni v’ivasheyah….”  “Heal me, O Lord, and I am healed, save me, and I am saved…..”

One big tear rolled down my cheek as her rock of a mother turned into runny mascara.  I heard other sobs break out here and there.  Not a dry eye in the place, except for hers.  She had already lived it, and this was her day to rejoice.


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