We are nine women who have traveled very different roads to come to this place. Whether through Yiddish culture or religious training, traditional foods or political activities, we have received from our parents and grandparents a sense of Jewish identity. We came of age, however, in a time when our Jewish religious communities were at best ambivalent about, and at worst opposed to, Jewish women being full members of those communities. Some of us rejected a Judaism that did not seem relevant to our lives, others held tight to a heritage we should someday reaffirm; some began with very little Jewish training, while others drifted away.
But something deepened our connections, brought us back. We have all come together here at Temple Israel. For many of us the clergy and teachers here were pivotal in our reconnection with Judaism. Several of us, upon seeing our children becoming B'nai Mitzvah, were infused with the beauty of that special moment. We became aware that this rite of passage was as critical to our own evolving Jewish identity as it was to theirs. Several of us have reached ages that are multiples of 13. We are each ready at this time of our lives to make a public statement of commitment to our religion. One member of our group writes:
Today, I will see the parchment and the beautiful calligraphy of our Torah, feel the Yad in my own hand, feel the anxiety and exhilaration of chanting in front of the entire congregation This is my first Bat Mitzvah. Today, I fulfill one of my obligations as a Jew, take my place in our minyan, pray, and wear my tallit. This is my second Bat Mitzvah. Today, I will understand much of the meaning and structure of our liturgy, I will be thinking about the Torah and Haftarah portions, I will know myself to be a spiritual seeker and a student of Torah, as well as a good Jewish spouse and mother. This is my third, but not my last, Bat Mitzvah.
Our ancestors connect us to the Jewish people. We remember the ethics, the values, and the tenacity of our people. We remember, too, the persecution, in many times and in many places. We who knew our grandparents treasure the powerful memories of their stories and food, their spirituality and songs. We honor our parents and grandparents today, and dedicate this ceremony to those we have lost. We are each called to the Torah by our Hebrew or Yiddish names as ell as those of our parents. In this way we honor and remember the aunts, uncles, and grandparents for whom we are named. We are proud as well to acknowledge our children, for they have inspired us.
We came together to study as a diverse group of women. We are Ashkenazim and Sephardim; married, partnered and single; straight and lesbian; parents and non-parents with deep connections to friends' children. We live all along the ranges between rich and poor, observant and non-observant. We share our love of learning, our seeking of spiritual growth, our love of Jewish holiday foods. We were all drawn to this place and time by a common, unbreakable thread. We are of one purpose: to take our place in the Jewish community, clarifying and reclaiming our identities as Jewish women. As we step up to the bimah, we are very grateful that now we can affirm our own connection to the Torah and reclaim our Judaism as equals. As one of us has written:
I must stand before my congregation and formally take the Torah as my own, acknowledging before God, family, and friends that I am a Jewish adult, willing and happy to enter into the covenant we have made...I take my place as a Bat Mitzvah, a full and fuller member of my community, a receiver, protector, and transmitter of our heritage.
We committed to each other to complete this task. As one of us writes: We can make time for important callings."We encouraged each other to read the Hebrew, and chant the Torah. We were guided and supported by our wonderfully patient and knowledgeable teachers. And, as we worked to make our prayer book reflect our selves and our visions, we displayed our particular strengths. There was organization, humor, and dedication; sharing, writing, thinking, and discussion; flexibility and strongly held opinions. We took small steps, and here we are in front of you today, miles from where we began. Our particular spiritual journeys have been heightened and enhanced by the process we have created and shared. Faces that formed part of the crowd in Temple corridors have come into focus, linking us to each other, and connecting us more strongly with our congregation. And our congregation links us firmly to the Jewish community of the world, and of the future.