Mazel tov in Maui, courtesy of former East Bay tutor – J.
Feeling the sand between her toes was Teva Goldstein’s favorite part of her December 2021 bat mitzvah on the island of Maui. She and her family all wore white, accessorized with purple necklaces.
The beach in Hawaii was nearly 4,000 miles from her home in Dallas, a thousand miles from where she had lived most of her life in Maryland. However, her family had chosen it to mark her bat mitzvah, the moment when she would symbolically assume adulthood among the Jewish people.
The path to the beach was long and winding due to the Covid-19 pandemic, punctuated with setbacks and anxiety. But it had put Teva and her family in touch with a former Bay Area resident who is turning Hawaii into a bar and bat mitzvah destination.
Discovery Sandra Razieli helped them finalize plans that had been upended by the pandemic – twice.
Razieli moved to Maui in 2017, thinking his skills as a yoga teacher would be his way of making a living. She surmised that the b’nai mitzvah tutoring she had done for two decades for families at the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont would be of little use in Maui, where an unaffiliated synagogue and a Chabad serve the small number of local Jews.
“I didn’t know I was going to keep doing Jewish stuff when I got here,” Razieli said.
She was wrong. Not only did Razieli begin to find work through Beit Shalom: Maui Jewish Congregation, but she also began to carve out a niche serving mainlanders who choose Hawaii as their destination bar and bat mitzvahs.
So far, she has presided over six b’nai mitzvahs, including that of Teva.
If Beit Shalom receives a call from someone planning to travel to Maui for a lifecycle event, the synagogue sends the caller on Razieli’s path. She has also officiated at a few weddings and has more to come in the coming months.
Razieli said the decision to lead seaside b’nai mitzvahs was not entirely natural.
“At first it was difficult for me to think of officiating a b’nai mitzvah away from [a Jewish] community, since the whole point is to say ‘I enter my community’,” she said. “But some don’t have that community at home. I want to provide an experience where they feel honored and welcome.
Razieli was recently ordained by the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, a one-year online program that confers the title of “rabbi” on its graduates. In the Bay Area, she led Jewish rituals and led the b’nai mitzvah program in Kehilla, where she was known as “Spiritual Leader Emeritus.”
From her new locale, Razieli meets with families virtually, then creates personalized prayer books for each event, asking families for their preferred language for God, for example.
Next, she borrows the Torah from Beit Shalom for a ceremony at a seaside restaurant — where the sight of a Torah scroll can certainly draw attention. “People are sunbathing and will see the Torah here,” she said.
And while that may seem jarring to some, she says, with such stunning decor, it’s hard not to be impressed. “In some ways, it’s a lot more spiritual than being in a space with fluorescent lights,” she said.
Such was the case for the Goldstein family, who found themselves in Maui after canceling several other plans. First, a destination bat mitzvah in Prague was canceled due to the pandemic; then a postponed ceremony in Israel was scrapped because of the omicron variant.
During the first year of the pandemic, Teva and her family make the local news for creating and displaying inspirational signs, such as “We’re in this together”, in their Dallas neighborhood. But when the pandemic led to two bat mitzvah derailments, Teva, now 15, was beginning to feel her resolve weaken.
“After learning two different portions of Torah, and with everything still virtual, she didn’t even want to have one,” said her mother, Abby Goldstein. “The fact that she didn’t feel much of a connection to it made us sad, so we decided it would be low key and easy for her.”
But Teva had one last idea, tied to her passion for the environment – perhaps preordained by her name, which means “nature” in Hebrew.
“I just wanted to do something out of the country, and since that wasn’t possible, I felt like Hawaii was the closest out of the country I was going to get,” said she declared.
Abby booked tickets to Oahu. But after Teva found Razieli onlinethe family revised their plans once again, making Maui their destination.
With little time to prepare, Teva was not interested in learning yet a third part of the Torah, so she recited the blessings on the Torah rather than reading it. She and Razieli met a few times on Zoom to get ready.
“It was a very good experience. I liked how Sandra personalized the service for me,” said Teva.
And the environment — a far cry from what the family had originally planned — turned out to be an essential part of the religious experience, Abby said.
“With such beauty, we saw God all around us,” she said. “At the same time, I felt such gratitude that even in the midst of the turmoil of the past two years, we have seen our daughter do this and make this connection with God. It was very meaningful for me to know that we didn’t give up, of all things, and I think it was for her as well.