I’ve posted here recently on childhood memories, movies, online political contributions, Abraham and Isaac… but not a word on my Bat Mitzvah.
Some of you may be wondering: Is she still becoming a Bat Mitzvah? Did she forget about all this, somewhere on the fifth beer of her Czech bike trip? What’s with the title of this blog anyway?
Well, yes. I’m still moving forward to my Bat Mitzvah date of Feb. 26, 2011. I took a break in July but in August got back to work, learning my chanting. I’ve now completely mastered the Hebrew chanting for my Torah portion and my Haftarah (Prophets) portion. Yeah! I met with Rabbi Chester two weeks ago about starting work on my D’var Torah, the talk I’ll give based on the content of my week’s portion. You’ll be hearing more about that in the future.
Quite honestly, though, the Bat Mitzvah preparation has been the easiest part of my life recently. The past couple of months have offered up far more challenges around “midlife” than around “Bat Mitzvah”.
I’ve been piling up rejection note after rejection note for my novel, and having to consider whether my aspirations as a fiction writer are a total bust. And I’m starting to look for a new job — actually for an entirely new career that does not involve newspapers.
So writing a speech and memorizing about ten minutes’ worth of Hebrew chanting feels relatively manageable and comforting!
This is, in fact, part of why I decided to become a Bat Mitzvah this year, as opposed to five or ten years from now. With all the other uncertainty in my life, I figured I might benefit from a project that is finite, doable, and plays to familiar skills. I thought it might be helpful to have one achievable goal amidst all the less certain ones. Smart me!!
When I started this blog last November, some people asked if I were going to turn it into a book. (Understandably: The movie Julie and Julia had just come out.) I unequivocally said no.
To write a good memoir-style book, you need a narrative arc with tension and drama. You need obstacles to confront. I didn’t see that kind of drama in my Bat Mitzvah process. I didn’t have a love-hate relationship with Judaism. I wasn’t returning to a long-lost heritage. I wasn’t wrestling any angels over whether I believed in God.
I pretty much knew what I believed and was comfortable being Jewish. But I wanted to learn more, deepen my understanding of and competence in Judaism, and articulate my beliefs. I’m certainly doing all that. But it isn’t exactly gripping drama. To steal some terms from other areas of religious life, for me this process is a confirmation rather than a conversion.
But the book idea popped back into my head the other day.
The message I keep getting from literary agents is: It’s a terrible time to be selling fiction. But… do you have a non-fiction book-proposal?
And I keep running into other women who say “Oh, I became a Bat Mitzvah two years ago!” Or “I’ve always thought of doing that!” This is clearly a trend among boomer-age Jewish women – who grew up before it became common for girls to become B’not Mitzvah, who reclaimed a Jewish identity as adults, and who have a reached a point in their lives where they have time to put into their own personal spiritual development.
So there might be book potential here – not a memoir, but more of a trend-type book. We’ve got a social phenomenon that no one has really written about yet. And a clear target audience who would be interested in reading such a book.
But… where’s the drama?
I come back to the same roadblock as the blog-memoir idea. A book needs conflict, drama, a narrative arc that takes you from Place A to Place B. I’m not sure where to find that with the topic of adult B’not Mitzvah.
I can envision lots of interviews. Lots of interesting women telling me stories about how for decades, they felt marginalized in Judaism and realized they needed to become a Bat Mitzvah to feel fully engaged. Or how they coached their kid through a Bar Mitzvah and realized they wanted one too. Or how they started out atheist, and through the Bat Mitzvah process, came to a personal understanding of God. Lots of stories – many of them far more dramatic than mine.
But that still doesn’t make a narrative arc for a book. Where’s the conflict? The impact? The story?
With my prior book, Where Girls Come First, I saw a clear dramatic question even before I started my research: Girls schools were on the brink of extinction 20 years ago, but have staged an unexpected comeback. Why?
That book was more than a compilation of personal anecdotes – there was movement, opposition, broad societal impact, and a “plot” that was reflected in the subtitle, The Rise, Fall and Surprising Revival of Girls’ Schools.
Maybe I need to figure out a similar kind of thesis or plot for this topic. Are all these adult B’not Mitzvah having any kind of impact on the nature of the Jewish community?
Or are they just individual events, with only a minor ripple effect beyond the Bat Mitzvah herself? (That doesn’t make for much of a plot.)
For now, I’m having trouble envisioning a narrative arc for a book about adult B’not Mitzvah.
Can you see one?