Ask Helen: Speak kindly at b’nai mitzvah – parents’ words can last a lifetime

Dear Helen:

My daughter is becoming a bat mitzvah very soon. I am looking for inspiration for my talk to her on the bimah. Problem A: I’m a poor writer and scared of getting tongue-tied. Problem B: My parents want to bring a bottle of booze to her Kiddush lunch, but the site only allows for prayer wine. How do I get my parents their booze that day? They’re worse sober, sigh.

Dear Stressed:

If your parents are so permanently pickled they cannot survive from breakfast until mid-afternoon without booze, you have a problem that’ll last long after the big event. Counsel them to coast through on Manischewitz. No matter what you say, they’ll probably pack a flask. You can only hope they’ll be discreet. In addition to everything you’re already juggling on your do-not-forget list, add identifying a babysitter/designated driver for the proud grandparents. Put a trustworthy friend without a drinking problem on that duty and concentrate on your daughter. They’re less likely to brush off advice from a friend than a child/sib.

You don’t have to be a good writer for this. Just be willing to speak from your heart. Honor the aspects of your daughter that you genuinely admire and also those you wish to inspire. Don’t be afraid to have a small cheat sheet with you. Then speak sincerely. Tell her what makes you proud, your hopes for her and simply of your love. Be specific and be general. Include a cute story or two. End with a loving hug. Be sure to thank your parents for being there; talk about how each of you serves as a role model for the others. This is a chance to deliver a message to all three generations, with the congregation as witness. If you can influence the readings for the service, try to lace them with messages that’ll inspire everyone’s behavior, at lunch and beyond.

Dear Helen:

I’ve never felt comfortable dancing in public. When I was a teenager, a superb but mean dancer called me a clod and a klutz. At my own bat mitzvah my mother told me “We don’t dance.” Both stuck hard in my throat. The only time I really enjoyed dancing was when I was very, very drunk at a fraternity party. I’ve managed to avoid dancing at social engagements much of my life. But I don’t want to hide any more. At 50 I am finally ready. Home alone, with a glass of wine, I can feel like Tina Turner. But in public, no matter the music, I feel like a wooden board. I am so jealous of people who move easily. Do I go to my grave feeling …

Dear Frozen:

Any issue that’s lasted this long will not be solved overnight. Increasing your sense of competence and grace will mitigate some, though not all, of the fear. The simplest and most reliable solution would be dancing lessons, privately at first and then in a class. The benefit of a class is that no one is meant to be an expert. The private lessons should give you enough confidence to get to the class and stay there. You can always practice more with the teacher on the side. Stick to dances with regular beats and moves until you find your legs.

After that, start slowly in public. Attend the kind of venues with free bands where people mill around, not serious partner dancing. Try big concerts where people stand up in their seats and boogie. A glass of wine is OK to get you going. Have a friend you trust be your partner, one who’ll stop when you want and not pressure you beyond your limits. Practice at home, with or without wine, to various kinds of music. The more like Tina Turner you feel, the sooner you’ll become a public dancer in addition to a private one.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to

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