Dear TEE community,
This Shabbat marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first time I read Torah. I was fifteen, attending a summer-long intensive study program at the Reform movement’s teen camp. I grew up at a time when bat mitzvahs were still unusual, at least at my classical Reform Temple, and had never really considered having one, especially as it involved two extra days a week of Hebrew school.
Everyone in the program had an opportunity to read Torah during Shabbat services, and so, outside on a beautiful summer morning, I had my bat mitzvah. Two memories from that day stand out to me. The first was the experience of holding the wooden handles of the Torah scroll while I chanted the blessing. Somehow, in that moment, I unexpectedly felt connected to the generations of Jews who had come before me. I continue to take a few seconds to recall that experience every time I have the opportunity to hold the Torah.
My second recollection is of the small celebration I had with friends afterwards. We took picnic supplies and rowed across the small lake at the camp. It was quite a contrast to the elaborate bar and bat mitzvah parties I grew up attending. I was sorry that my parents weren’t with me (I hadn’t thought to ask them) but otherwise I couldn’t have had a nicer day. This “less is more” experience stood me in good stead when, as a parent, I could work out with my children what was really important for their own b’nai mitzvah celebrations.
While I was far from adulthood, having a bat mitzvah out of choice rather than routine certainly made it deeply meaningful. I realize not everyone has the sort of mystical experience I had when I was first called to the Torah, but I do know that having an adult b’nai mitzvah has been a key event in the lives of many contemporary Jews. This fall I will be working with a group of members who have expressed an interest in an adult b’nai mitzvah program. If this is something you have considered, please get in touch with me and plan to join us.
The ancient rabbis used to take the Torah to the marketplace and read it publicly to demonstrate that it belongs to all the Jewish people. The experience of reading Torah is an affirmation of that ownership and one that is both the right and privilege of every Jew. It would be my great honor and pleasure to support you in doing so.
Rabbi Drorah Setel