Like Cecelia Nealon-Shapiro, I chose to serve kosher Chinese food at my bat mitzvah party. My culinary choice was based purely on my taste buds. Cecelia’s had to do with her identity.
The New York Times chronicled Cecelia’s unique (Yin Yang yarmulkes) and not-so-unique (reading the torah) bat mitzvah experience that, like many other bat mitzvah days, came to be partially out of a sense of obligation.
But when Cecelia announced that “we have all been, or will be strangers at some point in our lives” during her bat mitzvah day speech from the front of her New York City synagogue, it couldn’t have been more true for Cecelia herself. Cecelia was born in China and adopted by Mary Nealon and Vivian Shapiro when she was three months old. While Cecelia feels fully Jewish, she also embraces her Chinese heritage.
The Nealon-Shapiro family exemplifies the modern Jewish family. We look different, come from different backgrounds and are part of all types of domestic situations. Still, we are all Jewish and can and should feel equally comfortable participating in the Jewish community. Kudos to Rodeph Sholom for being an open and welcoming synagogue—because like Rabbi Robert Levine shared with the congregation at Cecelia’s bat mitzvah, “Let the stranger in your midst be to you as the native, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
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