With speeches about historic poets and writers, Jewish-Irish history and even some analysis of the modernist novel “Ulysses,” Evian Bloom Guilfoyle and Mischa Blue Ehart Rogin marked their entry into Jewish adulthood together.
As members of Machar, The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, Evian and Mischa Blue and their families have been friends for years.
“We’ve known each other since we were really little,” said Evian, a 13-year-old Takoma Park Middle School student. “It’s traditional at Machar to do joint b mitzvahs,” he said, referring to gender-neutral approach to the bar or bat mitzvah coming-of-age ceremony. Humanistic Judaism is a non-theistic movement.
Four years ago, the pair’s older siblings had their own joint b mitzvah, which set the precedent for Evian and Mischa Blue, who celebrated together on Sept. 4 at a friend’s house in Takoma Park. In a joint Zoom interview, Evian and Mischa Blue described their speeches and the ceremony.
For her speech, Mischa Blue studied Jewish activist and poet Emma Lazarus.
“I knew I wanted to do [the speech] about female Jewish writers or poets, and I found Emma Lazarus and thought she was really interesting,” said Mischa Blue, a 14-year-old student at the District of Columbia International School.
Lines from Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus” are inscribed on the plaque on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Mischa Blue has been interested in poetry ever since winning a poetry contest in the fifth grade.
Mischa Blue said her parents gave their seal of approval before she presented her speech: “They just wanted to make sure it sounded good ─ that it didn’t just sound like I wrote it overnight.”
Mischa Blue hopes she spoke clearly enough. “I hope that [the audience] could hear me because I talk really fast, so I hope they understood me,” she said.
Evian said his father had input for his speech, too. “At one point, my dad actually suggested that I change topics,” he said. “I was having a lot of trouble finding information about [the Irish-Jewish community].” A trip to the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin inspired Evian to write his b mitzvah speech about his heritage.
“I’m Irish and Jewish, so I was really interested in the Irish-Jewish community and I thought it was interesting to research about that and learn more about it,” he said.
In the speech, Evian also wrote about the Jewish character Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s 1922 novel, “Ulysses.” He said he didn’t read the entire book, known for its difficult stream-of-consciousness prose, but he did watch the 2003 Irish film “Bloom,” with Stephen Rea playing the titular character.
Evian enjoyed the connection the novel has to his father. “‘Ulysses’ is one of [my dad’s] favorite books, so he was very excited about this because it’s something that touches close to him,” he said.
Mischa Blue said she spent months preparing her speech. “You start thinking about it a year in advance, but you don’t start writing it until you have a topic,” she said. It took four or five months to write her speech. Evian said he took almost the entire summer to write his.
They said they were surprised when all those months of work ended in what felt like an instant once they presented their speeches.
“It’s weird because you spend so much time on it and then it’s over in like 10 minutes,” said Mischa Blue.
“Yeah,” Evian added. “It’s crazy.”
The ceremony was held at Evian’s friend’s house, which enabled them to have an outdoor celebration and stream it over Zoom. “[The house] had a cool stage setup,” said Mischa Blue. “[The b mitzvah] was a lot of fun, I’m very glad that we settled on that location,” said Evian.
What was the best part of the day? “My favorite part was when I was done with my speech!” said Evian. “It was like the biggest hard part was over and then I could just celebrate.”
Mischa Blue nodded her agreement. “I was really scared about it because I know Evian does a lot of theater, so he’s used to speaking in front of people. But, I have never done that ever before in my life and I have bad stage fright, so it was a lot for me.”
Evian quickly added: “But she did great!”
With the milestone behind them, Evian and Mischa Blue said they don’t feel much different.
“It was very exciting to do [the b mitzvah] because it’s like this big thing,” said Evian. “But then, I feel like not much changed. But I’m very glad that I did it because it meant a lot to me and I really liked working for it.”
Mischa Blue’s said that when her older sister celebrated her b mitzvah four years ago, her sister became a more responsible person. Mischa Blue said her parents are hoping the same will happen to her.
“My parents want me to have a sudden burst of maturity, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” she said. “We’ll see.”
Mischa Blue has a younger sister, but Evian doesn’t have a younger sibling, so the possibility of a third joint b mitzvah for the families is low. But not impossible.
“We’re getting a cat!” Evian said.
“Maybe my younger sister will do a b mitzvah with a cat,” Mischa Blue laughed.