As September quickly approaches and summer fades away, many college-bound students are packing up and preparing for the upcoming year on campus. For some, this is new and unchartered territory: dorm life, new friends, unlimited extra-curricular activities, and doing your own laundry. And for a few students, this includes becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
Last year, according to the Dayton Jewish Observer, four students at Tufts University were called to the Torah as B’not Mitzvah during the spring semester. One of these young women, Kira Mikityanskaya, was inspired to have her Bat Mitzvah during her first trip to Israel the summer before her freshman year. Kira didn’t even learn that she was Jewish until the age of 6 when she and her family immigrated to the United States from Russia. Growing up she at attended Sunday school and was active in her local Jewish youth groups, but as she turned 13, when many of her friends started preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s, Kira felt she wasn’t ready. So the time came and went, and she never had a Bat Mitzvah.
After a Birthright trip to Israel last year, Kira decided she wanted to finally have her Bat Mitzvah – she just didn’t know how to do it. When she arrived on Tufts’ campus for the first time last Fall, she saw a flyer at the campus Hillel for a program helping students who had never had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to have one. Seven months and one mitzvah project later, Kira became a Bat Mitzvah at age 19.
Nearly 2000 miles away, four other women were recently called to the Torah for a B’not Mitzvah. They, like Kira and her friends, were also past the traditional Bat Mitzvah age – but a bit further along. At ages ranging from 76 to 90, these women, who grew up in a time when girls didn’t typically have a Bat Mitzvah, were finally able to celebrate. “It shows that you never get too old to do something you want,” said the eldest of the group, Diana T. Wunch, in the Houston Chronicle.
For many, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah comes hand-in-hand with a slew of requirements and rules, such as several years of study in the synagogue’s religious school, membership, Torah-trope tutors, mitzvah project, etc. These requirements and policies can often deter families and individuals looking to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah outside of the traditional timeline. Unaffiliated and interfaith members of the community need to know that our doors are open, especially for the important lifecycle events – from Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s through weddings and funerals. For this reason, JOI is working in partnership with STAR: Synagogue Transformation and Renewal on Call Synagogue Home to help rabbis and synagogues look beyond their policies and seize these opportunities for engagement. Whether it’s a Bat Mitzvah at 19 or 90, or an interfaith family who wants to celebrate the birth of a child, we are working together to make sure that our community is welcoming to everyone who wants to share in these rich, family experiences.