Tamar Levy-Gedacht, a 12-year-old Israeli-American girl who lives in South Korea, became a bat mitzvah at the traditional Jewish ceremony on Aug. 10 at Temple Emmanuel in Chelsea.
Family and friends listened as Tamar, standing confident and poised alongside Rabbi Oksana Chapman, recited from the Torah during the ceremony that symbolizes a girl’s religious maturity into adulthood. Boys become bar mitzvah at the age of 13.
Tamar traveled 7,000 miles to celebrate her bat mitzvah in Chelsea. She was born in Manila, Philippines in 2008. Her mother, Ester, is originally from Israel, and her father, Dan, is an American who was born in Milford. Tamar currently lives in Busan, South Korea, where her father heads up the U.S. Consulate.
Her father’s career as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department has taken the family all over the world.
In addition to the Philippines and South Korea, Tamar, along with her sister, Ariel, 14, and twin brothers, Raphael and Max, 8, have lived in Israel, India, and Poland.
Tamar’s bat mitzvah was held at Temple Emmnauel because her proud grandparents, Carl and Sharon Minkovitz of Revere, are members of the congregation.
It was a momentous occasion in the history of the century-old Chelsea institution, but the star of the day was Tamar, a multi-talented student at the International School in South Korea, who likes to sing and skateboard and also has a Black belt in taekwondo.
Congratulations from Rabbi Chapman
Rabbi Oksana Chapman helped Tamar prepare for her bat mitzvah through long-distance lessons and teachings and the Temple’s spiritual leader quickly ascertained that Tamar was a special person.
Rabbi Chapman said in her congratulatory message, “I’ve met you, Tamar, only a few weeks ago and was immediately impressed by you. You have an amazing spirit that shines through brightly. You are smart, intelligent, sincere and full of life.
“And since I’ve known you for only a short period of time, I have asked your grandparents, Sharon and Carl, to describe you. They said, ‘Tamar is spunky, civic minded, and bright. She is a very impressive, sensitive, and compassionate young lady.’’’
Rabbi Chapman noted a letter that a then-9-year-old Tamar Levy-Gedacht sent to Donald Trump upon his election as President of the United States. “Congratulations on getting elected President,” wrote Tamar. “I hope when you are President, all people are safe. I hope you make great decisions for our country.”
Chapman was impressed by the young girl’s initiative and thought. “You are already thinking of others’ safety and happiness and our tradition is very lucky to welcome you today as a Jewish adult,” said Rabbi Chapman.
Words from a Proud Father
Tamar’s father, Dan, delivered a gracious and thoughtful speech from the podium on the bemah. He thanked all who made the bat mitzvah possible.
“To friends and family it means to me that you’re here to help Tamar become a bat mitzvah – Thank you,” said Dan. “To my parents, Mom and Carl – how you managed to put this together – words don’t exist to show how overwhelmed I am. I love you both so much.”
Dan shared a story about Tamar’s positive attitude and determination, how she dedicated herself to learning her Torah reading.
“She wanted to put the book away at first, but then she did it. She went through that Torah reading, and then through the service, word by word, line by line. She learned it and she did it her way.
“But that’s Tamar, committed to getting the job done and done well. And that’s what you all saw today,” said Dan. “A young woman who is warm, who is passionate, who possesses empathy – a good person, a mensch.
“Tamar, you are a great kid and I am so proud of you, for what you did today, and for what you do every day. I love you, T, – Mazel Tov.”
Tamar’s thoughtful advice is well received by the congregation
The guest of honor – Tamar Levy-Gedacht – whom her father called “the woman of the hour” – then delivered the most important speech of her life to-date, her first speech after becoming a bat mitzvah.
It was what you would expect: creative, perceptive, and thoughtful, leaving the many guests in attendance with the important advice to heal, not hurt, people with their words.
“Before I start, I would like to thank everyone for coming. It’s really wonderful to connect with this side of my family,” said Tamar.
“My Torah portion is called “Devarim: which means “words” or “things” in Hebrew,” she related. “Devarim is similar to the word “devorim” which means bees. You know “bzzz.” In the first few chapters of the portion (of the last Five Books of Moses – Deuteronomy), Moses is being very critical of the people of Israel, and of himself. It has been said that Moses’ criticisms hurt like the stings of a bee.
“We’ve all been in situations where other people healed or hurt us with their words, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, we have also hurt or healed people with our words as well.
“As you know I have lived in several countries all around the world. This means that I have had to go to different schools whenever my family moved, and I am often the new kid at my school.
“On the first day at a new school, everyone is usually super nice and complimenting you. They crowd around you and want to talk to you. These words heal you, making you feel good in your new situation. However, sometimes people reject the new kid at school, and say mean things or don’t include them in group activities. Those kinds of words hurt, just like how Moses stung the people of Israel with his criticism.
“When I think about this portion, I am reminded that I have to choose my own words wisely, so that I don’t hurt someone. I always try to use words that heal, instead of words that hurt.
I urge you to do the same,” concluded Tamar.
And with those heartfelt words of wisdom from a 12-year-old with a bright future in this world, Tamar Levy-Gedacht had become a bat mitzvah.