Maya's Bat Mitzvah - A Lesson in Courage

February 25, 2015  •  1 Comment

Maya | Bat Mitzvah
Date | 1.10.15
Service | Temple Isaiah, Lafayette, CA
Reception | The Claremont Hotel, Berkeley, CA
DJ | Adam Goldstein, Gatsby Entertainment
Decor | Balloon Thrills
Caterer | The Claremont


Once in awhile, someone comes into your life who touches you in ways you could never imagine. Several months ago, I met with Maya’s family for a consultation about photography for her Bat Mitzvah. As they told me their story, my heart just ached.

You see, one year ago, their youngest daughter Naomi ("Nomi") was diagnosed with Leukemia and their whole world was turned upside down. It reminded me of the first time I met Chelsea and her family (Chelsea's Hope), who many of you know I've worked with over the years. Listening to the pain in their voices as they described what the last year has been like was heart-wrenching.


Maya Pre-Mitzvah Portraits


And while Naomi's parents were focused on the endless tests, chemo, hospital stays, and complications, Maya was often left to fend for herself. She had to try and continue living her 13-year old life of school and religious studies in preparation for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah, and she did so with courage beyond her years. One of her wishes was that her little sister Naomi would be well enough to attend her Bat Mitzvah...


Maya's Pre-Mitzvah Portraits


I had the honor of photographing Maya's Bat Mitzvah a few weeks ago, and I'm happy to say Naomi made it with flying colors. To be the one to capture her and her family having this one day of “normalcy”, celebrating Maya and just being in the moment was awesome!


Maya's Bat Mitzvah Family Portraits


Maya's Bat Mitzvah Temple Isaiah, Lafayette



Nomi’s journey of recovery however is far from over, and the entire family's resilience is being tested once again. On Feb.9th, Nomi re-entered the hospital and endured 8 days of intensive chemotherapy in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Last week, Maya entered the hospital and underwent the procedure to harvest her own bone marrow in order to donate stem cells to save her little sister's life.


In Maya's D'var Torah (teaching) about courage, she shared her thoughts on this next step in Nomi's treatment. Maya touched every single person listening that morning including me.




Tears filled Maya's eyes as she spoke so eloquently about being the bone marrow donor for Naomi, and about her fears as she and her family enter this next phase of her sister's treatment.




Here is an excerpt from Maya's speech:

"In new situations, we often need a push. We need someone who believes in us and helps us build our confidence to try a new experience.

Early last year, shortly after my sister, Naomi, was diagnosed with cancer, I had to have my blood tested to see if I might be a match in case she needed a bone marrow transplant. I have a phobia of needles, and I was scared to have my blood taken. My mom and I went to have this done at the same time. Even though I was scared, it helped to have my mom with me.

Even more than that, I kept thinking about Nomi and everything she was going through. I thought, if she can do all of that, then I can do this. Even though I knew I had to do it, her experience helped me build up my confidence to face my fear and do something scary.

Nomi will be getting a stem-cell transplant in February and I am her donor. When I found out, I didn’t hesitate about doing it, at all. But, I am very nervous about how uncomfortable and painful it will be, and I am anxiously anticipating the day. I know I need support to help me get through it and have the confidence in myself to be able to deal with it.

I have learned that I am capable of doing more than I might think.

We are all capable of doing more than we realize. When we come up with excuses and try to get out of doing things that are hard,  we might not ever get the chance to see that we can be good at the difficult challenges we were too scared to try."


Wow, what a powerful lesson for us all! Really makes you stop and think...

  • How many times have you let fear stop you from trying something new?
  • How many times have you passed up an opportunity to grow as a person?
  • How many times have you looked back at a missed opportunity in your life and said, "I should have..."


Maya's celebration that evening was such an incredible event, truly a celebration of life. Photographing Naomi and her family letting lose and having the time of their lives was such an amazing experience.



Maya's Bat Mitzvah Party The Claremont Hotel, Berkeley


Thank you to Maya’s family for sharing their inspiring story and to Maya for having the courage to share her innermost thoughts and feelings about a very difficult situation.

Thank you to Bar/Bat Mitzvah DJ extraordinaire Adam Goldstein (Gatsby Entertainment) for making so much of Maya's party possible.


I will continue to follow Maya and Naomi's story in a series of future Blog posts so stay tuned. In the meantime...


Maya's family needs our help 

A Fundraiser has been established to help the family pay for Naomi's mounting medical expenses. For the past year, they have been living off of the father's salary as an 8th grade science teacher since mom quit her job to take care of Naomi. Please read more about Naomi's story and consider making a donation today. Goal is to raise funds by Naomi's 12th Birthday on April 27th, 2015.

Find Fundraiser Ideas that Work




San Francisco Bay Area Bar & Bat Mitzvah Photography

I hope you enjoy this San Francisco Bay Area Bat Mitzvah Photography provided by Cheryl Bigman Photography specializing in Bar & Bat Mitzvah photography throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Cheryl Bigman Photography is unique among other San Francisco Bay Area Bar & Bat Mitzvah photographers. Each family is one of a kind, and Cheryl feels your Bar & Bat Mitzvah photography should be one of a kind as well. Every Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah is treated with the utmost care and attention in order to creatively weave together the story of your special day.



Service Area Information

Cheryl Bigman Photography offers Bar & Bat Mitzvah Photography throughout the San Francisco Bay Area including but not limited to the Tri-Valley and Contra Costa areas of Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Pleasanton, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Mateo, Burlingame, Redwood City on the Peninsula, Marin County in the North Bay, and the South Bay.
Not looking for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah Photographer? Please consider Cheryl for your custom high school senior photography and family and children's photography needs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Destination photography outside the San Francisco Bay Area available upon request. Call for more information.



Deena Solwren(non-registered)
You captured everything so beautifully through your words and pictures. The entire Bat Mitzvah was truly special. Your pictures captured every detail and moment. We wanted copies of each and every picture. It was terribly difficult to narrow down our favorites. I'm happy to be able to share that post transplant both Nomi and Maya are doing wonderfully. Nomi is not yet 100% cured, but she's well on her way.
Now that we are most likely pay the spray of it, I am resuming my psychotherapy practice. In addition to my focus on "All Things Maternal", I will be specializing in helping other families facing a loved one's cancer and other life threatening or chronic conditions.
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