Tradition & Innovation

A Milestone Birthday Ritual of Renewal

By Paula Jacobs

To mark a special milestone birthday, I decided to create a meaningful ritual as a way to reflect on the past and look ahead to a positive future. My goals were to acknowledge and differentiate this transition as sacred, express my deepest personal feelings, and share this significant moment with family and friends within the context of Jewish community.

Using Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman’s article, "Constructing a Ritual of Transition," as a guideline, I reflected carefully on the significance of the ritual and an appropriate guiding metaphor. I strove to keep the ritual simple, make the moment magic, involve key people, and incorporate music.

This ritual incorporates both traditional and contemporary Jewish liturgy emphasizing the themes of gratitude, healing, renewal, and redemption, consistent with my goals in creating this ceremony. It includes music and texts that have always resonated for me spiritually, including: excerpts from the morning service; Marcia Falk’s, "Blessing of Redemption" and "Blessing for the New and Renewal;" Psalms 71: 17 – 18, 86:7, 150:6; and Debbie Friedman’s "Lechi Lach." Also providing inspiration was the Simchat Hochmah ritual, "The Blessing of Wisdom" [See Richard F. Address, To Honor and Respect, URJ Press].

Importantly, the focal point for this ceremony was Mayyim Hayyim in Newton, Massachusetts, where I was joined by my daughter and two of my friends. The mikveh, the quintessential symbol of rebirth and renewal, offered the ideal sacred space, with its confluence of physical and spiritual elements within a Jewish community setting. It seemed particularly appropriate that this special birthday also marked the occasion of my first tevilah or immersion. I looked forward to personal reflection in the mikveh, followed by the ceremony with family and friends.

While immersing in the mikveh, I could hear my daughter and friends chanting Psalm 150:6,

כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ הַלְלוּיָהּ
Kol hanshamah t’halel yah halleluyah.

"Let all that breathes praise the Lord, Hallelujah," a verse that I have always found imbued with tremendous spiritual depth, particularly the niggun of Kehilat Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem.

I felt it was important to acknowledge this occasion and its significance with personal meditation and reflection.


Recite the following texts as kavannot in the mikveh, in addition to the immersion blessing.

נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים
מְקוֹר אֱמוּנָה וְתִקְוָה 
מַעְיַן שִׁירָה חֲדָשָׁה 
מְקוֹר תִּקּוּן עוֹלָם

 N’varekh et ein hkhaim
M’kor emunah v’tikvah
Mayan shirah khadasha
M’kor tikun olam.

Let us bless the source of life,
source of faith and daring,
wellspring of new song
and the courage to mend.*
(Copyright © 1996 by Marcia Lee Falk)


אֱלֹקִים לִמַּדְתַּנִי מִנְּעוּרָי וְעַד הֵנָּה אַגִּיד נִפְלְאֹתֶיךָ 
וְגַם עַד זִקְנָה וְשֵׂיבָה 
אֱלֹקִים אַל תַּעַזְבֵנִי


Elokim limadtani minuray v’ad heynah agid nifl’oteykha
V’gam ad ziknah v’sheyvah
Elokim al ta’azveyni

You have let me experience it, God, from my youth;
until now I have proclaimed Your wondrous deeds,
And even in hoary old age, do not forsake me, God.
     Psalm 71:1718


הַאֲזִינָה אֲדֹנָי תְּפִלָּתִי וְהַקְשִׁיבָה בְּקוֹל תַחֲנוּנוֹתָיִ
בְּיוֹם צָרָתִי אֶקְרָאֶךָ כִּי תַעֲנֵנֵנִי


Ha’azinah adonay t’filati v’hakshivah b’kol takhanunotay
B’yom tzarati ekraeykha ki ta’aneyneyni

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
heed my plea for mercy.
In my time of trouble I call You,
For You will answer me.
     Psalm 86:6

Emerge renewed and refreshed from the mikveh, ready to receive the following blessing from guests.  [Guests offer blessings while passing around the miniature Torah received many years ago in Hebrew School.]


נְבָרֵךְ אֶת מַעְיַן חַיֵּינוּ שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמָן הַזֶּה

N’varekh et mayan khayeynu shehekheyanu v’kimanu v’higianu lazman hazeh

Let us bless the flow of life
that revives us, sustains us,
and brings us to this time.*


Share these words, using selections from the shacharit (morning) service (from Birchot Ha-shachar) as well as the Simchat Hochmah ceremony referenced above:


מוֹדָה אֲנִי לְפַנְּךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקיָּם שֶׁהֶחֳזַרְתָ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתְךָ 

Modah ani l’fanekha melekh khay v’kayam she’he’khazarta bi nishmati b’khemlah rabah emunat’kha

I am grateful to You, everlasting God, for restoring my soul to me in compassion.
You are faithful beyond measure.


    וַאֲנִי בְּחַסְדְךְ בָטַחְתִּי יָגֵל לִבִּי בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ אָשִׁירָה ליי כִּי גָּמַל עָלַי

V’ani b’khas’d’kha vatakhti yagel libi bishuateykha asherah l’adonay ki gamal alie

I have trusted in Your love;
May I rejoice in Your saving power.
I shall sing to the Lord;
for He has been bountiful to me.

As today I celebrate my life’s continued unfolding, I am awestruck by the wonder of my being. And so I pray that kindness and compassion may be on my lips, that strength and courage may be with me in my comings and my goings, and that I may continue to learn from and to teach those dear to me.
O God my creator, as You are the first and the last, may my life ever be a song of praise to You. (Excerpted from Richard F. Address, To Honor and Respect, URJ Press)

Together recite these blessings:


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אלקינו מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁנָּתַן מֵחָכְמָתוֹ לְבָשָׂר וְדָם 

Barukh atah Adonai elokeynu melekh haolam shenatan makhakhmato l’vasar v’dam

Praised are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe who has given of Your wisdom
to flesh and blood.


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶן

Barukh atah Adonay eloheynu melekh haolam borey p'ri hagefen.

Praised are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe who creates fruit of the vine.

[Each person drinks from the Kiddush cup.]

The ceremony concludes singing the song, Lechi Lach.

Lyrics by Debbie Friedman & Savina Teubal
(based on Genesis 12:12)

Lechi lach to a land that I will show you
Lech li-cha to a place you do not know
Lechi lach on your journey I will bless you
And you shall be a blessing, you shall be a blessing
You shall be a blessing lechi lach

Lechi lach and I shall make your name great
Lech li-cha and all shall praise your name
Lechi lach to the place that I will show you
Li-simchat chayim, li-simchat chayim
Li-simchat chayim lechi lach.

And you shall be a blessing, you shall be a blessing
You shall be a blessing lechi lach.

*Excerpted from Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (Harper, 1996; Beacon, 1999). Copyright © 1996 by Marcia Lee Falk.


Complete Ceremony

NEW! Set of 18 Blessing Cards for Major Jewish Holidays