How To Be An Adult Bat Mitvah by Jeanne Simonoff

How and why I was Bat Mitzvahed at age 62 and read torah
Jeanne Simonoff
Early in my life, in the 1950s the status of girls was such that boys bar mitzvahed. oh of course and they received gifts, big parties and were “men.
Girls were undervalued for this. It wasn’t until my adoptive mother was 75, and her father was a rabbi in Russia, that she became Bat Mitzvahed.
Why so many years later would I ever want to go through all that study, a solid year building on the 4 years of learning I had done when I was 8 years old on, for two days a week after regular school, for two hours or sometimes three, intense study in Hebrew, torah scripture, reasons for doing this? To go through that rite of passage that would render me an adult in my community. Able to lead services, to read from the torah without any vowels, to learn the trope, the melody for each letter and to do so without making any mistakes.
So at the age of 61, I studied the reading of torah, the study of Hebrew, and met with the Rabbi each week for an hour or more.
If you have ever been to a service for Shabbat on Saturdays, there are many prayers, English and Hebrew, and melodies, and reasons for doing them in a certain order.
In this day and age, women and men usually do all this in a group called Bnai Mitzvot and each may read a small section of the weekly torah reading and the commentary called the Haftorah, which was read because it was closely related to the actual torah reading but not punishable by death when the Jews were forbidden to read Torah. Generation after generation, century after century, we were stripped of this ability and had to go underground to pray, to study.
Northern New Mexico has many people who identify themselves as Conversos, from Spain when it was either convert or die. centuries later, they realize that ceremonies and rituals were embedded in family activities.
I digress. So as a child, I lost faith in God because I was denied that rite of passage and upon going to my cousin Lizzie’s Bat Mitzvah in early 2001, I thought, I can do this and began my road to Bat Mitzvah.
I learned that even with sore arms and shoulders, yes, I could carry the torah, I could relearn what I had done in my early years. I could come home to myself whole.
When I was Bat Mitzvahed in 2002, in September, I took over the services, read torah, haftorah, conducted all the prayers. Relatives came from all over the country. My mother who was in the later  stages of Alzheimer’s attended, and in the middle of the services hollered out, “That’s my daughter,” to which Rabbi Schwab confirmed from the pulpit, “Yes, Esther, that’s your daughter.” Six weeks later, she died. Talk about coming home. It is something I will always be thankful for doing.
If you can pick up the pieces in your life in some way, ceremony, creative endeavor, reunion, union, my advice is don’t hesitate for long. just do it.
I am available to discuss this process that fulfilled that lifelong void in my life. My grandfather used to tell me often, “Jeanne, where’s there life, there’s hope.”

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well ( The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

One thought on “How To Be An Adult Bat Mitvah by Jeanne Simonoff

  1. Your self completion is an amazing story. My multicultural background, and the varied religions of my ancestors does not allow a firm connection/completion like you have gained.

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