Mother’s speech for daughter’s bat mitzvah

By Andria Simckes

Delivered by Andria Simckes during the bat mitzvah of her daughter, Naava Simckes, in January, 2016 at Congregation B’nai Amoona.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream.  I too have a dream.  I dream of a world where I can walk into any store and not have a sales clerk follow me trying to ensure that I do not steal something.  I have a dream of a world where I do not have to prepare your brother for driving while black and how to present himself to the police and the world so that he is not perceived as a threat, just because of his size and skin color.  I have a dream where the many different faces of a Jew will be accepted as part of the Jewish community; where I can sit on a Jewish board or committee and not be questioned whether I was going to represent the interests of black people today or Jewish people.  And I dream of a world where I represent both because I am and we are.

Naava, in your Parsha, G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh singled out the Israelites and tried to kill them.  In your D’var Torah, you discussed how historically blacks have been singled out because of our skin color.  And you asked the question, “why does discrimination against another take place?  I wish I had an answer for you. 

Instead all I can say is that unfortunately, discrimination still pervasively exists.  And as you encounter discrimination, I want you to remember what happened to Pharaoh and the Egyptian’s when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, and not allow your own heart to be hardened.  Instead I ask that you remember Shir HaShirim or Song of Songs, as it is called in English, and draw strength.  Song of Songs is a book of Tanuach, King Solomon authored, that is often sung during Kabbalat Shabbat and on Passover.  It depicts the love between God and the Jewish people using the metaphor of the love between husband and wife.  Your name, “Naava” comes from there.  Naava means “beautiful” and in Song of Songs, it states, “I am Black and I am Beautiful”  Your middle name, “Lee” comes from Sovta’s youngest brother Robert Lee (blessed be his memory) and it means “to me”.  So together you are named, “Naava Lee” or “Beautiful to Me”.  And I pray Naava Lee, that just as you will always be beautiful to me, may you always see the beauty in others and help the world find the beauty around them.

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Today, you channeled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream during your eloquent chanting of Parshat Bo and your D’Var, and overcame your fear of public speaking to become a Bat Mitzvah.

I am so proud of you.  Thank you for being all that you are and for bringing so much joy to my life.  I love you.