An adult bat mitzvah book?

When I started this blog, some folks asked if I were going to turn it into a book a la Julie and Julia. I gave a resounding NO. I just couldn’t see my Bat Mitzvah process as sufficiently dramatic or life-changing  to interest anyone (myself included) for 300 pages.

Fast-forward about 18 months. I studied for my Bat Mitzvah ceremony, became a Bat Mitzvah, celebrated, moved on with life.

But recently, I’ve started thinking about that book idea. And now I’m intrigued.

It’s not the kind of book that I initially rejected — not a first-person memoir of spiritual quest, not an Eat Daven Love.

Instead I’m thinking of a guidebook. A companion for women embarking on the process of becoming an adult Bat Mitzvah. (And men too, although they’re not as common.)

When Sam and I got married, we were deeply grateful for a book called The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant. Diamant — who also happens to be the author of the great Biblical novel The Red Tent — explained all the traditional wedding rituals and offered creative ways to reinterpret and personalize them. Ketubah? Seven blessings? Chuppah? Diamant explained it all, accessible and encouraging and feminist and informed. I would give that book in a nanosecond to any Jewish couple planning a wedding.

I can envision a similar kind of book for adult B’not Mitzvah. It would give the history of the Bar/t Mitzvah ceremony, and the components of Jewish worship and Torah reading; it would include stories from some of the thousands of women who have chosen to become B’not Mitzvah as adults. There would be questions to encourage personal reflection about this process, and suggestions for how to make it as meaningful as possible. It would be a supplement, not a substitute, for study with a rabbi and cantor at a synagogue.

DUH! My first reaction, thinking of this a month or two ago, was to slap my forehead like Homer Simpson. Why didn’t I think of this earlier?

But then second thoughts popped up, as they always do. (And as well they should.) The market for such a book is miniscule, much smaller than a Jewish wedding book. No commercial publishers would be interested. And women have been becoming adult B’not Mitzvah on a wide scale for more than 25 years now. Hasn’t someone written such a book already?

My friend Jane, who also became a Bat Mitzvah at Temple Sinai in the past year, told me that she bought an adult Bat Mitzvah book when she started her process. My heart sank. Over the years I’ve found that nearly any time I have a Brilliant Book Idea, someone has written it already in a perfectly adequate manner.

Then last night I finally borrowed Jane’s book. And realized it was not at all what I was envisioning. It was a compendium of how to live a Jewish life, not a conversation about the Bat Mitzvah process.

Yay! I don’t think anyone has done what I’m imagining. There are lots of books for 13-year-old B’nei and B’not Mitzvah and their parents, but not for adults.

But that still leaves the question of how to fund it. I can’t put this amount of time in for free, or for an advance of a couple of thousand dollars. I think I’d need institutional support of some kind.

And it still leaves the bigger question: Is this a useful idea? Is it worth doing?

Hey you out there — yeah, you, blog readers who have tagged along with me for these months or years. Thoughts???

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20 Responses to “An adult bat mitzvah book?”

  1. Elizabeth Stark Says:

    Ilana — I love the idea, and I’ll bet you could get some statistics on how many adult Bat Mitzvah’s happen each year, which could help with your proposal. I could also see a broader ranging book, such as one about rites of passage for adult women, that look at the ways women acknowledge and are acknowledge formally at key moments–or opportunities to do so. I guess I’m thinking there might be a big (big advance) book about a variety of formal rites of passage for women, and then maybe another book that might not garner as big an advance (depending on those numbers!) but which would be a wonderful, long-lived book. I look forward to watching this unfold!

  2. Janice Dean Says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea, and I would buy and read such a book even though I’m not Jewish. My best friend got her B.A. & M.A. in Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. I’m going to link your blog post to her facebook wall and see if she has anything to add. I wish I could offer more insights, but I’m not well informed enough.

  3. Judy Levin Says:

    Ilana, I really like this idea as well and wonder about Elizabeth’s idea. I was not sure if she was suggesting one book covering multiple Jewish rituals or a series of books covering one topic each; but the multiple rituals in one book might gain a broader audience. I don’t know if that would be of interest to you or if it would feel too diluted. In terms of funding, what about asking Rabbi Berlin or Chester for possible funding ideas? I wonder if there is some Reformed Jewish Association that might be interested in funding this. Exciting to think about!

  4. susie m Says:

    I love Eat Daven Love. LOL.

    Yes! Write this book! I think it’s a beautiful idea!

  5. pam Says:

    great idea! go for it.

  6. Carolyn Said Says:

    What about starting by writing an article about your own bat mitzvah experience and selling it to a high-profile general-interest women’s magazine? Seems as if that might drum up some support and interest, and would also make a compelling part of your presentation to potential publishers/agents/backers. The book I’ve mentioned to you about previvorship (“Pretty is what changes”) came about because the author wrote a NYT op-ed about her situation of being diagnosed BRCA positive and an editor contacted her to suggest turning it into a book.

  7. Patti Says:

    URJ Press seems like one place to start. I think the book is a great idea. Starting with an article also sounds interesting, maybe for RJ magazine? About the adult b’not mitzvah at Sinai, or at Sinai plus a few other East Bay/ Bay Area shuls? Or compare/contrast your experience at Sinai with someone’s from Beth Abraham and someone’s from Beth Jacob? Good luck!

  8. Tali Says:

    Brilliant idea, I would love to have that book on my bookshelf. BTW, I’ve been meaning to tell you, your blog inspired me to start my own! of course, we are in different places in life, so I am blogging about the build up to my daughter’s bat mitzvah. It is kind of meshed with the rest of my website, but here is the first posting, I hope to complete the second one today or tomorrow http://yourjewishspeech.com/category/batmom/ .

  9. Tali Says:

    Ilana, do you want to write a guest post for midlife BM for my website? I have one article up there already, but I suspect you will come in from a different angle?

  10. Marina Kuznetsova Says:

    When I started reading I hoped that it is just a preface for your book,,,,

  11. Robin Says:

    I too was hoping to find the book to download into my Kindle. I am looking forward to starting my own journey to Bat Mitzvah this year.

  12. Ginny Says:

    How will I be different after my Bat Mitzvah……I am already a Jewish woman?
    Will I experience a new awakening? I will be more educated in Torah and now can read Hebrew. That alone is significant change!
    Ginny

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      I think the impact really varies from person to person. Personally, I did not really have a spiritual “awakening” but I feel much more at home during services, more of a sense of ownership and participation. I now understand the prayers, the structure of the service etc. I feel more competent and confident in that aspect of Judaism. It also led me into deeper involvement with our congregation. My Hebrew was pretty good beforehand so that was less of a change.

  13. Marny CA Says:

    I’m a bit late but just found your site due to Searching for anything and everything about Hebrew trope for my Bat Mitzvah. That amazing event will take place just before my 77th birthday, G-d willing.

    Your query was would writing a book be worth it. Hmmmm, let me think. Ok, just thought – what if the inspired writers of the Tanakh had not written it.

    They probably had other things to do – and such writings would take up so much time and not pay very much, if anything.

    My book is still in my head – 50 years – and what stops me, aside from procrastination and the thoughts of who would read it or care.

    I do have the title and dedication page – so that’s something, right?

    By the time you read this, I hope you have written the book and will get it published and gifted to your family members and loved friends.

    Shalom and
    Gentle as you go,
    Meira Shayna

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Thank you for your supportive words! No bat mitzvah book, but i continue working on various novels.

      Good luck and yashar koach on the occasion of your Bat Mitzvah! You will master the trope and do a great job.

  14. Marny CA Says:

    Ilana, in re-reading your original comments (above) I wonder about asking for a grant from as many Jewish organizations as you can snail mail, email, call, etc.

    Doesn’t hurt to try … the worse case scenario is that everyone says NO – and you’ll be bruised but not destroyed.

    You might hear a resounding YES – and then you’ll have to muster up all your strength and love to proceed and accomplish more than you ever dreamed.

    Two friends of my self-produced their books – and both were delighted and glad they accomplished more than they ever dreamed. One is a book about her bi-polar experiences — and I’ve given that book to a few other friends and they really needed to hear what she was describing for their own loved ones!

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Thank you! I appreciate the vote of confidence. Right now, I’m engrossed in another writing project (a novel) which has forced a Bat Mitzvah book to the back burner. But, it’s always encouraging to hear news of people finding successful routes to publishing their work. Congrats to your friends!

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