The ritual of becoming a Bat Mitzvah usually takes place at age 13, and celebrates becoming a “daughter of the commandment,” marking full ownership of the rights and responsibilities that come with being part of the Jewish community.
On June 29, eight women will become Bat Mitzvahs at Congregation Kehilat Shalom (CKS) in Belle Mead.
Rachael Apanovitch, Hilary Crist, Jill Fraticelli, Hinda Greenberg, Mary Horowitz, Leslie Kowalski, Ramona Mora, and Susan Waskow, ranging in age from their 40s to early 70s, are the women who will become Bat Mitzvahs. Some have been CKS members for only one year, some up to 26 years.
From left: Hinda Greenberg, Jill Fraticelli, Hilary Crist, Leslie Kowalski, Mary Horowitz, Susan Waskow, Rachael Apanovitch, and Romana Mora. Behind the group is CKS Rabbi Jacob Best Adler.
In October 2017, Rabbi Susan Falk (who left CKS in June, 2018 after an 11-year tenure) organized a group of women who were interested in being Bat Mitzvahed as adults.
She started with the basics and put together a reading list of books for discussion. Topics included the Reconstructionist approach to Judaism; the history and practices of Jewish holidays; and the nuances of Jewish prayer. The group had to learn or brush up on Hebrew so that they could read from the Torah. They also learned trope — the chanting particular to Jewish prayer.
When Rabbi Jacob Best Adler joined CKS in July, he took on the class. He introduced new readings, articles, and podcasts to enliven the group’s learning experience.
Jill Fraticelli, vice president of the CKS Board of Directors, was the catalyst for the group’s formation. Fraticelli said watching her two children go through the preparation process for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs was an inspiration. So, she pursued the idea of becoming a Bat Mitzvah herself, and was even more encouraged when other women were interested as well.
Each of the women has her own distinct reason for wanting to become a Bat Mitzvah at this time in her life.
Ramona Mora, raised in an interfaith household (Jewish and Roman Catholic), was inspired by the meetings she and her son, Jared, originally had with Rabbi Susan when they joined CKS.
“The more we learned, the more we decided we wanted to be called to the Torah because Judaism is what is in our hearts,” Mora said. Jared, who is 16, will become a Bar Mitzvah separately on June 1. “Having the ceremony is more meaningful to us now, being older, than if we did it because we ‘had to’ when we were young.”
Mary Horowitz, who converted to Judaism in 1979, wanted to be more comfortable in services and to learn Hebrew.
“A surprise and a welcome pleasure has been the way this has become a pathway into participation in all facets of the congregation,” Horowitz said.
Rachael Apanovitch, who has been a CKS member for a year, decided to join the group “to integrate my informal study in Judaism with formal study, learn more about the traditional Bat Mitzvah process, and experience it with an inclusive group of mature, like-minded women.”
Hinda Greenberg hopes to re-connect with her Jewish heritage. “My wish for the b’nai mitzvah process and the actual day itself is to confirm my Jewish identity and membership in the Jewish community,” Greenberg said.
Leslie Kowalski, whose brother had a Bar Mitzvah, wants to stake her claim more firmly in the Jewish community. Kowalski’s parents discouraged her from studying Hebrew, so she ended up attending synagogue with an Orthodox family in her neighborhood. Looking back, Kowalski said, “I satisfied my need for Judaism by becoming very active in B’nai Brith, but I always wanted to become a Bat Mitzvah.”
Hilary Crist says: “I’ve been thinking about becoming Bat Mitzvah since Rabbi Falk came to our synagogue 11 years ago, but the timing was never right. I decided to commit when I heard about the group. I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn Hebrew and to chant the prayers.”
Susan Waskow was Bat Mitzvahed as a young woman, but she was not allowed to read from the Torah. “I wanted to be supportive of the people who had the courage to learn something new and step outside their comfort zone as adults. It’s a great group, and I enjoy studying with everyone,” she said.
Different as they may be, the women forged a special bond as they learned Hebrew, discussed readings, and studied together.
Rabbi Adler says he is proud of what the women have accomplished. “It’s been wonderful to work with a group of dedicated, curious, passionate adult learners,” Adler said. “These women have stepped forward, choosing to take ownership — to claim their place in our Jewish tradition — and it has been an honor to be present with them on their journey.”
The group Bat Mitzvah ceremony will take place on June 29 at 9:30 am in the CKS sanctuary.
A luncheon celebration will follow the service. All community members are invited to attend. ■