—November 3, 2018

My beloved S—-, you become a bat mitzvah today, which confers upon you obligations and responsibilities as a member of the Jewish community and as an inheritor of a tradition dating back thousands of years. The haftarah you read today, from the Book of Kings, is about a struggle over King David’s inheritance. It concludes with Bathsheba speaking the words “May my Lord King David live forever.” What Bathsheba meant was that David’s line should live forever, that the Jewish people should live forever. After the unspeakable event last weekend at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, it is an obligation upon you and upon us to do what we can, every one of us, to make sure Bathsheba’s wish is fulfilled.

The theologian Emil Fackenheim said Auschwitz had required this of us—that we were not allowed to grant Hitler any posthumous victories. He called it the Commandment of Auschwitz. It is also the Commandment of the Tree of Life. The monster who slaughtered and wounded all those people wanted to kill Jews for being Jews. “All Jews must die,” he shouted as he murdered them.

The parshah from the Torah you read today is about the very first Jews. It begins with the death of Sarah and proceeds to tell of the death of her husband, Abraham. So here is my charge to you: If you want to make Robert Bowers’s words turn to ash, follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah. Live as a Jew. Have Jewish children. Try as your mother and I have with you and your sister and your brother to teach those children how to live as Jews so that they can teach their children, and their children can teach theirs, and theirs and theirs and theirs and theirs—until it is 3,600 years from now and there are still Jews on this earth just as there were 3,600 years ago when Abraham and Sarah breathed their last. Nothing could make me prouder of you than to see you pass on our heritage and continue as part of this divine legacy.

We thank God for blessing us with you. And even at your darkest and bleakest moments, we hope you never forget, or take for granted, how much He has blessed you. You are blessed with three grandparents here today, three grandparents whose love of ideas and love of country and love of life you have inherited, and you were blessed by a grandmother whose memory is a blessing and whose love of family and of you was all-encompassing. 

You are blessed with aunts and uncles who delight in you, and cousins both grown and toddling who cherish you. You are blessed with the ever-present spirit of your aunt Rachel, who so very much appreciated you. You are blessed with a sister and a brother who will, if you are lucky, be your dear friends the way your mother and I take wisdom and comfort from our siblings. You are blessed with the good fortune of having been born in this, the greatest and noblest nation the world has ever known. And you are blessed with the astounding birthright of the Jewish people. 

May you pass such blessings to your own nieces, your own nephews, your own children, and your own grandchildren in the endless chain that extends back to the lifetime of Sarah.

julia ioffe
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