Yay! I have a Bat Mitzvah group!
There are three other women currently going through various stages of the Bat Mitzvah study process at my temple. Finally, our rabbi managed to get us all together in one place last week for the first of what will be a series of weekly discussions.
Until now, I’d been meeting one-on-one with Rabbi Steven Chester about every second or third week, as well as meeting one-on-one with the cantor every so often, and attending an informal weekly class in prayerbook Hebrew.
I’d been looking forward to starting more of a group experience. I think the interplay of individual experiences and perspectives on Judaism will be great. And honestly, the one-on-one meetings with the rabbi have been a little stressful.
On the one hand, I’ve felt flattered to get such a chunk of his time all to myself. But on the other hand, we haven’t had any set curriculum or syllabus. Rabbi Chester basically said, “Bring whatever questions or topics you want to discuss.” And so I’ve felt this ongoing, low-grade pressure to come up with Really Good Questions. Or to read lots of stuff in between our meetings so that I would have intelligent things to say. And of course I was not reading anywhere near as much as I felt I should, so I continually felt unprepared. I guess it’s the Curse of the Overachieving ‘A’ Student, even with 25 years lying between me and any kind of school.
In any event, I was looking forward to getting this Bat Mitzvah group together. And we had a good first meeting. Mostly we shared our backgrounds, both in life and Judaism. All four of us are professionals and baby boomers, with the other three slightly further down the parenting path than I am: They’re empty nesters with children in their 20s, while my 16-year-old is still very much at home.
We each have separate Bat Mitzvah dates — the earliest in June 2010, and the last (me) in Feb, 2011.
Interestingly, we all had very different reasons for not becoming a Bat Mitzvah at age 13.
One woman was raised Reform and made the choice herself not to become a Bat Mitzvah as a teen. Another grew up with a strong Jewish cultural identity but no religious education or synagogue affiliation. The third was raised Conservative at a time when, in her congregation, girls did not become B’not Mitzvah.
And in my case, my parents didn’t belong to a synagogue and didn’t place much emphasis on being Jewish: We lit a menorah at Chanukah, but our primary winter holiday was a secular celebration of Christmas, complete with tree, stockings, presents, turkey and a big extended-family dinner.
So there we were, the four of us and Rabbi Chester, and the discussion turned to what we as a group wanted to learn. One woman had a bunch of suggestions: Who was Lilith? What are the 12 tribes of Israel and can we find out if we are descended from a particular tribe? What does Judaism say about angels? How does Biblical history fit with the broader history of surrounding civilizations like Babylonia, Greece and Egypt?
Rabbi Chester suggested we all come back the following week with lists of things we’d like to discuss. Fair enough. But we still needed a topic for the following week, and some readings to get the discussion off the ground. And the woman with all the suggestions wasn’t going to be able to attend the next meeting.
“Ilana,” he said, “why don’t you come up with a topic and some readings?”
Oy vay! Here I’d been thinking I’d just escaped from the pressure of having to come up with Really Good Questions. But instead I was in charge of creating a discussion plan not only for myself but for three other people. And I had just a couple of days to do it, and no one had much time to do any reading.
This sounded like a job for (blaze of trumpets, please) …. the prophet Deborah.
The mention of Lilith had gotten me thinking about other women in the Tanach. I knew the stories of the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) pretty well but I knew very little about Deborah. And her section of the Bible is short!
Deborah seemed an appropriate start for a discussion group made up of busy midlife Jewish women.
Next blog entry: The prophet Deborah.