It really does feel like yesterday when you were still Choco, tucked away all cozy and warm in my belly. I remember sitting in Savta’s apartment just down the street from where we are now and having our first heart to heart. It was June 18, 2002 somewhere around 2:30 in the afternoon.

“Choco,” I said. I know you’re not due for another four days, but I want you to know that whenever you’re ready, we’re ready for you!

And then I dragged all 202 pounds of myself down the elevator, out of the building, around the lake, up the big hill and down. The 20 minute walk took me a good hour, at least.

I walked in the door of our house at 4 o’clock to the sounds of Aba (Dad) and Saba (Grandpa) on their race to finish the bathroom remodel before your due date – four days later.

Fast forward four hours, past a cancelled Home Depot trip, and there we were. Still in the same house, but our numbers had increased by one.

There you were. Those dark eyes of yours looking deeply into mine, an old soul for sure, yet trusting of Aba and I to hold the space for you to grow this time around.

The 2015 commentary for how I felt in that moment was OMG! Who, I thought, entrusted me with this well being of this child!

The next thing I remember was Aba standing in the doorway with the phone in one hand, and his head in the other, so overcome with emotion at your arrival that he couldn’t get a word out. All I could hear was Savta (Grandma) Ruti in the background shouting from across the world, “Nu! Nu!” (Rough translation = “Tell me the news! I can’t wait one more second to hear!”)

Your 13 short years have truly been blessed, but they certainly have been no walk in the park.

There have been times when I’ve been brought to tears by my inability to protect you from life’s gauges, and the pain I’ve had to witness your heart bear. I couldn’t save your beloved Saba Richard or your Savta Bernice. I couldn’t mend a broken community that you thought was your home. I couldn’t call that last strike that would have given you the win.

But when the tears dry, and my thinking clears, I remember that my job isn’t to protect you from life’s curveballs, but to teach you to recognize them, accept them, and then hit them out of the park.

And, Z, you do it beautifully. You have a huge heart that you have learned to let break, but also how to piece back together. You have found ways to keep your grandparents in your heart by wearing shirts that in your words “Saba would have loved”, and by playing in the park where you used to play soccer with your 90 year old great grandma. Judging from this room full of friends, you have built yourself a whole new community of people who seem to like you pretty well, and I have full confidence that you will find your people next year in Israel. And did I mention that you really know how to lose a baseball game with class?

You can sometimes be prickly on the outside, but you are always sweet, caring, sensitive, and loving on the inside. The ones who take the time to notice are rewarded beyond what they ever might have imagined!

I know you joke about real men shaving their chest hair with a chainsaw, but I think you’re well on your way to becoming a real “real man”. One who can openly feel the great array of emotions that we humans are so lucky to be blessed with- and if you decide you want to shave your chest hair with a chainsaw, well, so be it. Just don’t post it on Instagram.

13 years after your amazing birth, here we are again at a major lifecycle event, and again you’ve got big fan clubs on two continents, all equally excited for your arrival, and all wanting a piece of you. And honestly, I can’t blame them!

Z- on this day of your bar mitzvah, you are, in the eyes of Jewish law, a man. And while I realize that you are in so many ways “just 13,” you are also truly on the brink of many huge changes.

On the day Savta Bernice died, she told you not to worry, that she had lived a long life, and that it was your turn to live now. (And she said she would be there with you on your bar mitzvah.)

Aba and I have shared our values and thinking with you, and it is your opportunity now to decide what you do with it all. We will continue to guide you, but it’s time now for you to begin thinking about what’s important to you. What are you going to fight for? How will you make your mark? What change will you create in this world with the life you’ve been gifted?

I have no idea where life will take you, but I am incredibly honored to be on the journey with you. And as Saba Richard would have said, “Let’s boogie!”