Take one look at me and there’s no doubting my womanhood. But when Yoav, our group leader, began tonight’s program with the question: “How many people here have not been bar or bat mitzvahed? Don’t be embarrassed,” I was one of the dozen or so whose hands sprang up unapologetically.
But I was caught off guard when he continued: “How many people would like to be bar or bat mitzvahed here on this trip?” A few tentative hands were raised. Mine was not among them.
While I’ve explored my Judaism through my writing and art, because of my family’s past in the Soviet Union, I grew up in a nonobservant family. Having a bat mitzvah just wasn’t something I had ever imagined doing until tonight. In fact, the first thought that came to my mind was I can’t make this decision myself, I need to talk to my mother—an urge I haven’t felt in a long time.
But the more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. Last year, my 12-year-old sister had the first bat mitzvah in my family since the onset of totalitarian communism in the old country. My knee-jerk reaction to call my mother was not the result of spending the past 72 hours with Jews, but also that my having a bat mitzvah would be a way to further honor her, a single refusnik mother who risked her life to save mine. (This has been a good month for her.)
Having spent a good amount of time in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago as a kid, I know that it’s appropriate to demand presents on this occasion. So, dear readers, this Saturday I’m officially becoming a woman at 26 years old, and I like gift cards.
In all seriousness, when it dawned on me that my ceremony—to take place in the basement of our grungy Jerusalem hotel—will fall exactly a year after the week of my sister’s bat mitzvah, I can honestly say that I’ve never been so excited about my personal Judaism. Birthright mission accomplished?