Home August 2013 Hebrew School Dropout

Hebrew School Dropout

I have a secret that few in the community know.  The reality is, I never got a Bat Mitzvah.  When I was younger, I wanted one just as elaborate as my friends’ and cousins’, but my parents were concerned with my college fund.  I don’t blame them.  Money didn’t grow on trees, and they wanted me to grow up to be a strong and educated woman.  This meant that my religious education was put on the back burner, and it became my college fund.  I think they invested well; I would say I turned out just fine.  However, many people my age have been called to the Torah.  Personally, I have never once read Hebrew to a crowd or worn a tallit (with the exception of when I was asked to carry a Torah or when I stole my dad’s as a child in temple).
Apparently this was a shock for a few friends who read on my Facebook page that I was excited to recite my first Aliyah for my aunt who was celebrating her retirement and birthday.  When I was younger, not having a Bat Mitzvah made me feel less Jewish, like I missed a rite of passage.  As an adult, I can happily point out my Jewish activity in the community is wide-ranged and comes with a decent sized resume.  I attribute most of my love for Judaism to three people: my mom, for always making sure that I viewed the Jewish community as a source of strength; my dad, for reminding me that being Jewish has special meaning; and my grandfather, Tzvi (זיכרו לברכה), who not only carried with him traditions from his Orthodox family in Berlin, but continually made Judaism a part of my core.  My Judaism cannot be quantified and I am far from spiritually or culturally removed.  So why does this Bat Mitzvah stuff still get to me?
After junior high, I decided I didn’t need it.  Orthodox women never experience being called to the Torah, and these women are not any less Jewish.  Why should I allow myself to feel less connected because I did not get called to the bimah?  I had an internal struggle between my personal Jewish identity and my Jewish communal rituals.  Some days my personal identity won; others were devoted to finding a way to be called before my community.
I have searched for opportunities since.  Once, my sophomore year of college, I joined a B’nai Mitzvah group, but the other girls quit, and my program ended.  Another time, I joined a lovely synagogue that offered to help me, but I lost steam and was focused on work and school.  I became a Hebrew School dropout.
Truth be told, an Aliyah is not quite a Bat Mitzvah, but it is the closest I have ever gotten.  So when I was asked to take the Aliyah, I realized I was given an opportunity to join in a Jewish ritual like so many before me.  The morning of my opportunity, driving up the 55 freeway, my tire shredded.  There I was, in a skirt, stranded on the side of the road.  I was sure I was not going to get to Pasadena on time.  Well, G-d works in funny ways.  My tire got fixed, and I ran into the synagogue as my name was being called to the Torah.  I had made it within seconds.
This summer, for the first time in my life, I stood in front of a crowded synagogue, wrapped in my grandfather’s tallit from Berlin, and proudly read in honor of my aunt.  The beautiful thing about Judaism is that it’s not something quantifiable; we are not more or less Jewish than our neighbors.  Judaism is a state of being, and I am learning that every experience makes Jewish life that much sweeter.

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