On Saturday, September 13th I finally became a Bat Mitzvah. I grew up in a very small town in Ohio – a town so small that the total number of people living there is roughly the same number of people who belong to Temple Sholom. I also grew up as part of an interfaith family. Needless to say I did not grow up with a strong Jewish foundation. It was not until college that I discovered and embraced Judaism (at a Catholic University no less!). After college I struggled with finding the next step on my Jewish journey. I had learned so much about Judaism and its traditions and practices, but I kept feeling like it was somehow not complete, that I needed to do something else.
Enter Kendra Gerstein and her Temple Sholom staff Hebrew class that she began in May 2013. It was about a year into the class when I realized that I really wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah and floated the idea by Kendra. She was super enthusiastic and before I realized what was happening I had chosen a date that was only five months into the future. Left to my own devices, I would probably still be picking a date.
From the moment I announced that I was having my Bat Mitzvah I felt nothing but support and excitement from my family, my colleagues, and the entire Temple Sholom community. While some of it is a blur, I do have some really fantastic memories from the whole process, and especially of that day. I feel so lucky that I got to work with and learn from Cantor Katzman and Rabbi Conover. They are two women that I really admire and value, and I so appreciated them giving me space on their already busy calendars and sharing their warmth and wisdom with me
I think my most favorite part was introducing my family to the Temple Sholom community, and celebrating this milestone with them. Rabbi Conover led such a beautiful and moving service (shout-out to Jay Rapoport of pinch-hitting when Cantor Katzman fell ill and could not attend the service). When I finished my Bat Mitzvah process, in addition to the relief I felt, I also felt a little empty. The thing that had occupied so much of my time and thoughts was over, and I could not help but wonder what was next. It helped me to realize that a Bat Mitzvah is truly a starting point to a rich and full Jewish life. A life filled with community, tradition, and learning. That is something that I really do not think I would have realized as a twelve-year-old girl. At twelve a Bat Mitzvah would have been the end point to a lot of hard work and preparation and a break from the years of Hebrew School. At twenty-nine I finished my Bat Mitzvah and started Hebrew School – as an assistant Kindergarten teacher.
It was definitely a scary undertaking to start to learn Hebrew, chanting and trope. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and behind and wondered if it was even worth it. It was so worth it, and I encourage anyone who has been thinking about it to do it! The sense of pride, accomplishment, and community is unbelievable. I have no regrets about choosing to be a Bat Mitzvah at 29 – you are never too old to embrace this simcha!