HomeOctober 2013Coming of Age at Any Age

Coming of Age at Any Age

Heritage Pointe resident Gitta Chernin, age 83, was lying awake thinking about the fact that she had had a wonderful Hebrew education as a child.  Yet, when she was 13, girls were not having Bat Mitzvah ceremonies.  Could she do it now?
Chernin asked Cantor Sue Deutsch about having her first Bat Mitzvah at an age when it is customary to celebrate one’s second.  They met every Wednesday for six months as Chernin learned the cantillation for her Haftarah portion.
“I wondered if I had taken on too much,” Chernin related.  “I was not only the Bat Mitzvah girl but the Bat Mitzvah mother.  I had to make arrangements for that day, Shabbat dinner and the whole weekend with lots of out-of-town company.”
Surrounded by five generations of family and friends from all over the world, Chernin was proudly called to the Torah in August by Cantor Deutsch in Kehillat Horim, the synagogue at Heritage Pointe.  A 97-year-old uncle, Herbert Livingston, who lives in Santa Ana had an aliyah during the ceremony, and all of the women in the family lit candles.
Reflecting on the event in September, Chernin said, “I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it.  I feel like I really achieved a goal.  It’s a lot of study, but it feels amazing.”
Chernin, who was raised in a Modern Orthodox family on the west side of Chicago, had studied Hebrew for five years, attending classes four times a week and going to services every Shabbat.  Her family was observant and kept a kosher home.  She was supposed to go to the University of Illinois.  However, the dorm where she was supposed to live became a dorm for returning veterans.  Her mother had a cousin in Arizona, and the cousin suggested that Gitta attend college there.
She met her husband, Homer, at the University of Arizona.  He was born in Nogales, Arizona, and came from a non-observant pioneering Jewish family.  The Chernins celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary in June.  They have two sons (in Mission Viejo and Sharon, Massachusetts) and one daughter (in Manchester, UK), grandchildren and great grandchildren.  All of the children keep a kosher home.
The Chernins moved to Heritage Pointe from Tempe, Arizona, where they had lived for 36 years, and where they raised their family.  Married life took them from Chicago to Nogales to Tucson, to Louisiana to Tucson to Tempe.  Homer worked in bank operations, and Gitta was an educator.  Education is a very important family value to them, and a big part of her wanting to become a Bat Mitzvah.
Chernin’s Torah portion, called “Ki-Tetze,” from the prophet Isaiah, is about the restoration of Israel to Jerusalem.  She was touched by this particular reading, because she remembers that she and Homer “had a feeling of elation” when they heard on the radio that Israel would become a state in 1948 when they were students at the University of Arizona.
The Chernins moved to Heritage Pointe a year ago.  Gitta Chernin described the move from Arizona as “a hard decision.”  The couple had a nice home and friends there, but they knew it was “time to come to where the family was.”  Since one son and daughter-in-law live in Mission Viejo, south Orange County seemed like a good destination.
In preparation for the move, the Chernins did a lot of research and spent a summer in Laguna Woods.  They visited all retirement communities in the area, and they knew they had to live in a Jewish retirement home.  The Chernins were sold on Heritage Pointe because of the synagogue inside it, the kosher kitchen and the wellness center.
“It was a very good decision,” Gitta Chernin said.  “We can still be active and do things, and we love the services here.”
Both Chernins still enjoy good health.  She exercises five days a week, started a book club and now is in charge of Jewish literature in English classes.
Chernin said her secret is to “be positive in your outlook and attitude.”  She added, “I was fortunate to have had wonderful parents who taught me so much about my Jewish heritage and observance.  Now I’ve been blessed with a wonderful marriage and family of my own.”

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  1. Thanks for writing such a beautiful story about my mother-in-law. The weekend was so special and well deserved by my mother-in-law.


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