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Behind the Wheel

As someone who wasn't born Jewish, trying to bring up a Jewish child, I often questioned myself on how to make Judaism an integral part of our lives--not just something to observe on holidays or while at the synagogue. Then, this past summer I had the opportunity to use a prayer to make a moment in my teenage daughter's life Jewish. I discovered the power of a blessing.

As any parent of a teenager knows, there comes a day of monumental importance in their child's life. A once-in-a-lifetime occasion that will change the way you view your child forever. No, I'm not referring to being called to the Torah as a bar or bat mitzvah, but the day when that child obtains a learner's permit for driving. My daughter, Erica, joined the ranks of eager-to-learn drivers in January, and I, her mother, joined the ranks of anxious parents. Erica, a receptive and sensitive child, picked up on her mother's nervousness at the thought of her daughter behind the wheel of a car and opted to have her father give her driving lessons. But Dad wasn't always available and the day came when she requested that I take her out driving.

Understanding that she did need the practice, I agreed, and we exchanged our usual places in the car. As I buckled my seat belt I looked over at Erica behind the wheel and was struck by how quickly time had passed. My blue-eyed baby girl was now a young woman. I wondered how I could convey to her all that I was thinking and feeling without getting too sentimental. I wanted to let her know that this drive marked an important transitional moment in my life, as well as in hers.

Erica looked at me nervously--she was used to having her father take her out driving and she wasn't sure just how I would react to not being the driver of the car. She knew that I liked being in control, and that it must be difficult for me to have her be the driver.

I looked at my daughter and said, what a perfect moment for the Shehecheyanu. In Judaism, the Shehecheyanu prayer can be said when you are experiencing something for the first time--whether the first time in a particular season, first time in your life, or for the first time that year. We recite: "Blessed are you, Creator of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season."

Like most teenagers probably would have, she responded with a look that seemed to say, "Are you serious?" I nodded my head, we turned and smiled at each other, and then we recited the blessing out loud.

As we said this simple blessing, my nervousness melted away, I sensed Erica relaxing with me in the passenger seat, and a feeling of calmness came over the two of us.

Saying the Shehecheyanu allowed us to take a moment to focus on the importance of our first driving lesson together and the importance of including Judaism in the moment.

Erica was pleased that I recognized she was making a change in her life--growing older and taking on a new responsibility. I knew that it was right to thank God for allowing us to be present at this significant moment and to acknowledge this arrival at a new place in our lives.

And so we slowly drove off on the first of many driving lessons.

Hebrew for "Who has given us life," part of a blessing thanking God for bringing us to a special or new moment. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
Paula C. Yablonsky

Paula C. Yablonsky is the co-editor of TechKnowledgies. Paula lives in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Mark Gibbons.

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