Kathryn’s Crossroads


Kathryn’s Crossroads


The Sunflower River in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, MS. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

The Sunflower River in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, MS. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

This tribute to Kathryn Grace Levingston first ran in the Clarksdale Press Register immediately after she became a Bat Mitzvah this past June, 2010. The deeply spiritual and well-ordered service was categorically one of the most meaningful religious ceremonies Pontificus has ever had the privilege of attending.


Pontificus Minimus seeks to honor Kathryn Grace Levingston — a new “daughter of the commandment”—— who became a Bat Mitzvah this past weekend (June, 2010).

According to her father’s written ruminations, the process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah —the public demonstration of a young Jewish girl 12 or 13 years of age, choosing to live her life according to the commandments of Jewish life and learning — is the volitional juncture where the child becomes aware of the crossroads beckoning physical, spiritual, moral and religious maturity.

Pontificus has written recently about Tevye, the Jewish milkman from Fiddler on the Roof, who was well acquainted with the historic hatred exhibited toward his people. Tevye understood, as generations of Jewish people have for several millennia, that traditions often provide the only stability in a world easily and often shaken.

Kathryn’s father wrote, “Rituals contribute to making a group distinctive and transmit identity from one generation to another. They dramatize a religious group’s beliefs about the world and about how their notion of God interacts with it.”
The Jewish people were called to be a distinct people, and their rituals and traditions have kept them intact throughout the Diaspora– the scattering and resettlement of Jews outside of the land of Israel since 586 B.C. — and centuries of extreme persecution.

Pontificus, who spent many Friday nights as a child at the Congregation Beth Israel in Clarksdale with his good friend Darryl Labens, beheld in Kathryn Grace Levingston’s reading of the Torah —the first five books of the Bible — a growing maturity, fed by a gentle and winsome spirit. She was at once woman and child — wise, yet eminently innocent.

In preparation for becoming a Bat Mitzvah, she attended religious training every Sunday and often during the week for seven years at Temple Israel in Memphis. The weekly, three-hour-round-trip journey took great commitment on the part of Kathryn and her parents.

She led the Shabbat (Sabbath) worship service during the Bat Mitzvah ceremony by flawlessly reading in Hebrew portions of the Torah and by chanting prayers expressing the hope that mankind will see more peaceful days.
Kathryn paid homage to God, her parents, family, friends and her religious instructors. Her thankfulness was evidenced by the duality of her confidence and humility. The child was and is becoming a woman of grace, faith and responsibility.

Rabbi Danzinger, Kathryn’s rabbi, tutor and spiritual mentor, told her during the service, “You are the epitome of what it is to be a girl and what it is to be becoming a woman. You are a child when it’s appropriate to be a child, and yet, a woman like today, and you do it seamlessly.”

The noted Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, acutely understood the dancing duality fused within the intensely personal relationship God calls us to, where confidence in Him and ourselves to perform correctly “makes nice” with a humility that speaks of an understanding of our place within a world we did not create but directly benefit from, and a humility that moves God and inspires His creation.

Danzinger lauded Kathryn’s work ethic in spending seven years in intense religious study and by her spending three to four days a week washing pots and pans at the Clarksdale Care Station during the summer.
Danzinger further praised her parents’ diligence in assisting their daughter of the commandment by acknowledging that even the best raw material —their daughter — would come to naught without parental love, guidance and commitment.

The service at Adath Israel Temple in Cleveland was attended heavily by Gentiles supportive of and friends with the Levingston family. The coming of age ceremony was reminiscent of what was seen in the “Jesus Movement” in the 70’s, in that a cantor —one who leads a Jewish service in prayer and song — played an acoustic guitar and chanted many infectious, spiritual ditties.

Pontificus does not make light of the word ditty — a poem intended to be sung or a short, simple song — in that the prayers chanted by the cantor were simple, easy to be remembered, and to the point in their praise and appreciation of what God has done and promises to do for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

God is complex, but His call is to simplicity grounded in faith and goodness extended toward all His people.

Kathryn Grace is a lighthouse and may her two lovely siblings follow in her deeply trodden footsteps as daughters of the commandment. Three fireflies may not light the universe, but their glow can shine for a world in need of a beacon of hope, acts of unselfishness and the pledge of a good conscience toward God and mankind. Shabbat Shalom!



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