Ruski’s Experience at Penina’s Bat Mitzvah

What is better than the weekend? Going to a bat mitzvah on the weekend!

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the bat mitzvah of our dear camper Penina. I have never been to a bat mitzvah for a believer, my only other experience being my counsin’s about 6 years ago. I was intrigued by how much more prevalent God seemed in the service, and how much friendlier the people were – I really felt included. I had been under the impression that a bar/bat mitzvah was a lot like a quinceñera in that it is a celebration of coming of age in the community; there are festivities and food and friendly mingling, etc. While those things were definitely present, I was so pleased to also experience worship of God in song, in the messages by both Penina and the Rabbi, and in the ceremony itself – like the liturgy and the bringing out and reading of the Torah.

Her havtorah portion was Bamidbar, which is Numbers 1:1 – 4:20. She read the Maftir, which was 4:17-20 and for her havtorah portion she read Hosea 2:1-13. To my pleasure she gave a delightful and unique message. She talked about God trying to have a relationship with his people – in Numbers by setting rules in place for his worship and designating people to certain tasks – the Koathites only being able to remove the holy things of the temple after Aaron and his sons had covered them – and in Hosea, by saying that the children of Israel are still his people but they must cast aside their Harlot-like idolatry.

During her message I couldn’t help but think of the significance of the bar/bat mitzvah and coming of age in Jewish culture. Why are we considered adults at 12-14? I believe that this is a tradition harking back to very ancient times. In ancient Greece a boy was not entitled to his father’s inheritance or his name unless he was “adopted” into the family, which would occur when he reached 12-14 years of age. Until that time he would be considered at the same level as a slave, he could even be put to death by his father with no thought by the community of that being wrong. I wonder how differently children behaved back then as compared to now. While this is not the same as reaching adulthood in the Jewish community, it shows that there was a time when a “teen” was only ever considered an adult and had to shoulder the responsibilities and privileges associated. I think that in a culture where teens are treated like older children as opposed to young adults we could stand to teach our young people to be a little more mitzvot conscious. That is to say, have these young people be aware that the actions they take affect not only themselves but the people around them and that we should be conscious of doing ‘mitzvot’ or ‘good deeds’ because it’s what is right, and also the only way a society can flourish. This, in a roundabout kind of way, brings us back to adulthood in Jewish culture, and leaves me thinking that it is a wonderful tradition.

But what does coming of age really mean, especially for those like me who never had a bat or bar mitzvah? I try to think of a time, a milestone, in my life where I felt that I had truly come into my own. One of those times for me was my first year as staff at camp. I did the 5 week challenge – 2 weeks as an ATL at Junior Camp, 2 weeks on Halutzim, and 1 week as a camper at adventure camp. It was a rigorous time, I learned a lot about my physical limitations, emotional needs, how to be a leader of children (there is a LOT that goes into being staff, you wouldn’t even realize), and how to own my faith and share it with others. I think that is the most important part of growing up, finding out who you are. And the summer of 2010 was definitely a time when that happened for me. But the most exciting part is that a milestone is just that – a marker. It’s not the finale, you are still running the race set before you, and being an adult is about always overcoming and setting aside the weights and sins that so easily ensnare us to become the people that God wants us to be and to live uprightly, constantly fixed on his love and righteousness. We can all be uniquely ourselves and also live for God and the process of learning how to do this is the thing for which you have ‘come of age’.

All in all it was a beautiful and compelling service and I’m so glad I was able to be there. Congratulations Penina, and I wish you blessings in this journey called adulthood!


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