By Allyson Freedman
I may have been first, but I wasn’t the best. Nearly 10 years ago, I stood on stage and uttered the first word of my Haf’torah at my bat mitzvah: “HALO.”
Sounds like hello, doesn’t it? I felt like I was saying hello to the world of Jewish adulthood. As an over-enthusiastic yet semi-tone deaf bat mitzvah girl, I sung out my Haf’Torah portion with a jubilant smile stretched across my face. Although my bat mitzvah was pushed forward by a month because of my rabbi going on sabbatical, I lucked out because I recited the shortest Haf’Torah of the year. It might not have been long, but no one could have rocked Acharei Mot Kedoshim like I could. Or so I thought.
Two and a half years later, my brother, Daniel, was up to bat. Since he was born in February, he feared that if his bar mitzvah took place near his actual Hebrew birthday, it would get snowed out. With only five other students in his Hebrew school class, he had his pick of portions. Looking through the list, he realized Acharei Mot Kedoshim was open.
Since he’s a quiet kid, many people had low expectations for his big day. However, Daniel had a dirty little secret: he has perfect pitch. When it came time to chant his Haf’Torah, Daniel opened his prayer book, took a deep breath and belted out his first word: “HALO.”
The note resonated to the back of the sanctuary, and every single person in the room perked up in their seat.
After his perfectly executed Haf’Torah portion, the rabbi joked during his sermon, “I’m not going to say who did a better job, Allie or Daniel.” His bar mitzvah tutor turned around to me and said, “He did.” Putting my own pride aside and beaming as the proud big sister, I had to agree.
Fast forward another two years, and my Orthodox cousin, Gershon, began prepping for his bar mitzvah. Then a student at Baltimore’s Talmudical Academy, Gershon could have singlehandedly chanted the entire Torah on his big day. But, incredibly, Acharei Mot Kedoshim fell on his Hebrew birthday. He captivated the crowd at Ner Tamid in Pikesville with his rapid-fire, perfect recitation of his Haf’Torah, plus every single line of his Torah portion.
Watching from the women’s section, I could not help but think back to that memorable day five years earlier when I had belted out the same portion. I now share this Haf’Torah portion with two of my closest relatives. As he finished his portion, he placed a football helmet on his head as everyone in the pews bombarded him with hard candy in celebration.
Even though we all chanted the same portion, each one of us put our own personality into it. While I won the award for perkiest bat mitzvah girl of all time, Daniel’s musical flair and Gershon’s passion for Orthodox Judaism made each recitation unique. From standing center stage at my own bat mitzvah to playing a supportive role as proud sister and cousin, sharing the portion made me feel even more connected to my Judaism. All three of us went on to continue our Jewish studies, and we became closer as a result.
We have all come a long way since the first time we said HALO. When I was 17, we visited Israel together for the first time. My grandfather, Marty Waxman, who devoted his career to raising funds for Israel and the Jewish community, had always dreamed of taking his grandchildren to Israel and planned a wonderful, three-generation trip for us. Falling in love with Israel, I spent the past year living in Tel Aviv reporting for The Jerusalem Post, and Gershon is currently studying at Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
During my time in Israel, I befriended a cantorial student named Allie Fox. Yes, another Allie F. We began talking and soon realized that she also shared my bat mitzvah portion. From close friends to family, my portion has grown bigger than me. Ten years ago, I was a beaming bat mitzvah girl. Now, I am a proud Zionist and Jew.
HALO world, here I am!