Only five people attended Alana Slade’s bat mitzvah last March, because of the shelter in place restrictions which the members of West Suburban Temple Har Zion were observing.

It was a big disappointment for the then 12-year-old, but one consolation was that a “repeat performance” was scheduled for March 20 of this year.  Renee Slade, Alana’s mother, recalled how the family was thinking about the pandemic a year ago.  “This date — March 20 — was chosen because we figured ‘a whole year later — of course things will be back to normal by then!’”

The Slade family’s pandemic experience is that we are closer to the destination than we were last year, but we’re not all the way there yet.

Expectations, of course, often influence how we respond to disappointments.  As Alana reflected on the last 12 months, she said, “When we planned a redo last year, I expected 200 or 300 guests in the temple with a big party that night.”

Instead, only 20 people were in attendance at the synagogue on Harlem Avenue in River Forest to witness what her grandmother Anita Friedman called her “Bonus Bat Mitzvah.” Friedman said, “Even though the out of towners stayed out of town, and local friends and most family also Zoomed again, Alana breezed through the reading of her Torah portion (Hebrew), her Haftarah (Hebrew), and her interpretation of the meaning of the Torah.  Nevertheless, the now 13-year-old chose to see the glass as being half full even though it did not turn out the way she had imagined.

“I wish that more family could have come,” she said, “but overall, I am grateful that my grandparents, aunt, cousin, and uncle could come. Not all of my friends and family could come but some could and that was amazing.” 

“Even though last year was weird and no one could come, I felt really special, and I was really happy after my bat mitzvah. Although my hopes for this year were big, I don’t think that anything could be better than how I felt on March 28, 2020. It didn’t matter where I was, I felt accomplished.”

Charlyn Slade expressed her feelings about the past year and Alana’s repeat performance from a grandmother’s point of view.  

“Although we have been blessed with good health the past year,” she said, “it has been a very difficult year, staying isolated and not being able to spend our usual time with our children and grandchildren. No sleep overs, no ‘special’ days together, no family dinners, no dance recitals and most of all, no hugs.”

” We did go to Oak Park, weather permitting to spend time in their back yard,” she said, “but of course, it was limited during the winter months.  We were able to implement a Zoom family bingo game with our 3 children, their spouses and our 7 grandchildren.

“We are not aware of any other young person taking the initiative to complete a second bat mitzvah, let alone doing it with incredible grace and passion.”

Renee used the word “spontaneous” several times to express how Alana and the whole family made lemonade, if you will, out of lemons. “When we cancelled the party plans a few months ago, we agreed that we would decide about a celebration at the last minute depending on the weather.  The weather report looked like it would be too cold to eat outside, so we didn’t invite the extended family over to eat. 

“But then it turned out to be beautiful, so spontaneously our good friends came over and we had lunch with them (at separate tables) in the backyard. Dinner was another spontaneous event! I was outside in the backyard in the afternoon when my neighbor Meena commented over the fence at what a beautiful job Alana had done (she was watching on Zoom) and she asked if we were doing sushi “again” for dinner — we invited them over for dinner on the patio (again, at separate tables). We joked about the “exclusive guest list” for the “party.”

“I felt a little bad that we didn’t plan something with the extended family, since we didn’t expect the weather to cooperate, but we just went with spontaneity, which is basically the story of almost every good thing this pandemic,” said Renee Slade.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...