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Musings on My Bat Mitzvah

Growing up in Argentina as a passionate Zionist and avowed secular Jew, becoming involved with a religious movement and being called to the Torah were not part of my plan.  Quite the contrary—those were attitudes that were completely incompatible with my thoughts, my ideals, my aspirations, and my vision for the future.

Life changes us:  we grow, we search, we evolve, and we find new meanings.  Theodor Herzl and Mordechai Kaplan (and his New Zionism) eventually shook hands and became friends within me. And I became a Reconstructionist Jew–with as much passion as I continued to have for Zionism.  I looked for a Reconstructionist community and, fortunately, found a group that was just starting out in Cleveland, with Jeffrey Schein and a handful of other people.

Two years ago, without much prior consideration, it suddenly felt “right” to become part of a b’nei mitzvah cohort under Rabbi Steve Segar’s guidance.  We were an extremely diverse group of men and women with different backgrounds, different life experiences, different world outlooks, and different temperaments.  We were quite a disparate bunch, ranging in age from twenties to seventies.

As part of the process, the Rabbi requested that we write our spiritual autobiographies and share them with the group. The exercise of documenting how my thinking had evolved and brought me to this point made it clear that the decision to become a bat mitzvah was a natural development—one that felt organic, one that felt right.

Sharing our spiritual journeys was a most remarkable experience.  We paid careful and loving attention to every story.  We heard the most intimate thoughts, we heard about the most personal of encounters, and we accepted, understood and embraced each other completely.  We embraced and felt embraced. 

Preparing to become “Jewish adults” and to be called to the Torah became a process of growth and of becoming a caring and supportive “family.”

As time went on we needed to prepare to be called to the Torah.  Not having been blessed with a musical ear, the thought of chanting from the Torah was quite scary. It was going to be a daunting task.  I have never been able to follow a tune, and never inflicted on anybody the agony of having to listen to me sing.  The thought of having to learn trope was quite frightening.  I might have dropped out were I not so stubborn.  But I found a tutor, studied seriously, and practiced daily.  I even rocked my newborn grandson to the sounds of “Lekh lekha.”  And, finally, I learned it.  And to think that I had never believed in miracles!

On October 27, at age 79, I chanted the beginning verses of Lekh lekha in front of the congregation, guests, and my children and grandchildren. I felt calm and confident.  It was right, and it sounded right.  And I felt that I, too, had heard the call to leave Haran, and had taken an important step in my Jewish journey.

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