Sunday was supposed to be my twins’ Siddur Ceremony. During the past few months of first grade it seems they have been exclusively preparing for the occasion – learning about Tefillah, practicing to navigate the Siddur, singing songs about God’s protective presence, and rehearsing the choreography for an elaborate 45-minute dance performance. Two weeks ago, when the government forbade gatherings of over one hundred, we were told that the ceremony would take place without parents. Our girls were crestfallen. Just one week later, the event was canceled entirely. To my surprise, rather than losing heart, the girls informed us that they would be performing the ceremony at home instead, just the two of them – and sure enough, the rehearsals continued apace.
On Sunday just before 5pm, when the original ceremony was scheduled, our girls ushered us into the living room. They were wearing their white school shirts and black skirts, their hair tied back in tight ponytails, their faces beaming with excitement – only their unshod feet betrayed that they were not in fact participating in an actual school event. They sat us down and instructed Daniel to call up the playlist they had prepared with him in advance. Daniel then came on stage in the role of the principal, welcoming the parents, thanking the teachers, and commending the students for all their hard work to prepare for this momentous occasion. He did such a fine job mimicking the gestures and intonations of their school principal that I had to stifle my giggles. Next I came on stage in the role of the school rabbi to offer some words of Torah about the siddur as the soul of the Jewish people. We took our seats and the music began. The girls twirled down our hallway and stood on our makeshift stage, extending their arms in flowing motions and spinning around in perfect unison. They had mastered every move perfectly, and never once did they break out in embarrassed or self-conscious titters. They were dead serious, and as we sat there watching them with tears in our eyes, so were we.
The main song they sang and danced to was Rak Yeladim by Yishai Lapidot. It was a song they had practiced so frequently at home that even our four-year-old knew the lyrics by heart, and she silently mouthed the words from her perch on my lap:
I am trying not to cry, I am trying to wait
And father then says that we have to have hope
To pray quite a lot, make our pleading requests,
But all that I am is a child without answers,
I am trying to comprehend, to act a bit older
But the grown-ups do not always understand either.
There are not always answers, so many new thoughts,
So I try and I call out to You.
God, please protect us…
God who dwells in the heavens
The angel who redeems us from all harm….
I watched the twins’ synchronized dancing and tried not to cry. I certainly did not have the answers, and none of the grown-up world leaders seemed to have them either. The I.C.U. rooms in Italy were overflowing. Very soon it may be the same in New York, where our families live. In just a week we would celebrate Pesach, and I prayed that the angel of death would pass over us and those we love if only we stayed indoors at home. But the verse that kept running through my head throughout this modern-day plague was “there was no household in which there was not a death” (Exodus 12:30). Were it not written, it would be impossible to say it.
When the girls finished singing, dancing, and delivering the recitations they knew by heart, Daniel and I stood up and handed them their Siddurim – not the actual Siddurim they are supposed to receive, which I assume are locked up in a classroom in their now-shuttered school, but rather some of the extra Siddurim we have at home which we’ve been using when we daven with the kids every morning. Then he and I, in our roles as school principal and rabbi, held up Daniel’s Tallit and the girls stood under it to receive our blessing. “May God bless and protect you…may God shine His countenance upon you.” We recited the chapter of Psalms that we have been adding to our prayers every morning: “I will lift up my eyes to the heavens….The Lord will keep you from all harm – He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” I prayed with all my heart that it would be so.
The girls then performed their final dance, to the music and lyrics of Ofra Haza’s Shmor Na Aleinu: “He Who sits somewhere up in the heavens, He who heals all the sick…. Watch over us like children.” Here, too, the words were so very relevant, and yet I found myself thinking of another song instead. I looked at my girls in their white shirts and thought of the Von Trapp family singers onstage in Salzberg for the music festival, singing Edelweiss with their pure sweet voices as the world around them collapses: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow. Bloom and grow forever.” I thought of the almond tree outside our window, the one my four-year-old used to say goodbye to every morning on our walk to school – back when there still was school. The Shkediya is our Edelweiss, our blossom of snow. May we all stay healthy and safe and merit to watch our blossoms bloom and grow in happier, more hopeful seasons.