So you normally don't think of the Staunton, Virginia area as bat mitzvah country. More like, rolling hills, horses and Civil War history. In fact, you don't normally associate bat mitzvahs with the outdoors, period. But that's not the way it always was.
Most of the bar and bat mitzvahs I've been to in my life have been inside synagogues and they've followed a familiar path, whether in 1975, when I fumbled my way through my own Torah portion wearing a plaid suit, or today. But August Caldwell and her mom, Dahlia Neiss, with whom I've been good friends for years, wanted something a little different. They wanted their friends and family to gather at the family farm outside of Staunton and celebrate there. Chickens clucking, the horses grazing, tractors pulling. And that's just what they pulled off. On a glorious day in summer, August read from the Torah on a hill overlooking acres and acres of lush Virginia countryside. Her words were marked by the maturity a bat mitzvah is supposed to confirm, and made even more striking by the scenery which surrounded her.