Posted on March 18, 2022
A Different 100th Anniversary
I was the only girl in my class to have a solo bat mitzvah. I went to the Bar Mitzvah class with the boys. At my bat mitzvah I read haftarah with the blessings but I did not have an aliyah. My father had the aliyah. I was not permitted to read Torah either. I am the oldest of five children; all four of my younger siblings read Torah at their BMitzvah ceremonies. A couple of years ago I kvetched about that to my next sister in line, complaining that I was the only one who did not get to read Torah at my Bat Mitzvah, I did not learn how to read Torah at that point, and I felt cheated in comparison with my siblings. My sister was incredulous. She said: “What are you talking about, Miriam? You became a rabbi!”
This Shabbat is the 100th anniversary of the first American Bat Mitzvah ceremony, the Bat Mitzvah of Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. (To read Rabbi David Golinkin’s history of the bat mitzvah ceremony, click here: https://schechter.edu/the-history-of-bat-mitzvah-ceremony/ ) Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan was the founder of the Reconstructionist Movement of Judaism. Judith’s ceremony took place at his synagogue, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We might be surprised to learn that in 1922 SAJ still had men and women sitting separately; one of Judith’s biggest comments on her bat mitzvah was about how it felt to sit with the men.
What was most noteworthy about Judith Kaplan’s bat mitzvah was probably how it caught on and became mainstream, first in Conservative congregations and quickly in Reform and Orthodox congregations as well. (Mainstream being a relative term — remember that I was the only girl in my class to have a bat mitzvah and that was well into the second half of the 20th century. Though to be fair, I was living in Canada at the time. Only the youngest of my siblings lived in Canada for her bat mitzvah and that was the other side of Canada.) One hundred years after Judith sat with her father in the men’s section and celebrated her bat mitzvah, in liberal congregations b’nai mitzvah ceremonies are the same for all genders.
Have a story about your BMitzvah or a different formative “first” experience? Tomorrow I will share reflections from Judith Kaplan Eisenstein in her own words about her Bat Mitzvah and we will have an opportunity to discuss it and share our stories.