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1+1=613

03/22/2022 10:47:18 AM

Mar22

Many years ago, I celebrated my "Adult Bat Mitzvah", when I was a new mom, and a steady shul-goer (temple attendee), at The United Synagogue of Hoboken. At the time, I was hungry to learn all I could about participating in services. I attended a class to learn how to read Hebrew in the siddur. I walked around Manhattan with my "Walkman" (don't know what that is? Look it up!LOL!), learning the prayers and blessings, and a very sweet congregant made a recording of my Shabbat Chanukah haftarah, for me to memorize.

But, in my recollection, all of that took quite some time. My inspiration was my first pregnancy. I wanted to be able to help raise my child as a Jew, and I knew I needed a lot of missing resources! One of the things that still remains echoing in my head, is the gentle, compassionate teaching of our student Rabbi, Stephanie Dickstein. She suggested that I observe one mitzvah (commandment) for now, for example, lighting the Shabbat candles. I could easily learn that bracha (blessing), and light the candles on Friday nights. Then, when I was ready, I could add one more mitzvah, perhaps reciting hamotzi  (the blessing over the bread or challah), and so on. It wasn't all or nothing. It wasn't pass or fail. It was at my own speed, and with helpful resources like Ron Wolfson's The Art of Jewish Living: The Shabbat Seder. And, I went to services, (you should pardon the pun), religiously.

By March, I was ready to observe the mitzvah of clearing the house of chametz, (leavened bread and other not-kosher-for Passover foods), in observance of Pesach (Passover).  Our son was born in the beginning of May. There was a bris (ritual circumcision ceremony), that I attended without much consideration of whether or not I truly wanted to observe that mitzvah, and I continued my studies and my ritual mathematics.

Back then, there were no prayer shawls designed to be worn by women. I bought a very large, ("Do-you-want-fries-with-that?"- large!) tallit (prayer shawl), and I wore it proudly. It was a mitzvah I loved adding to my ritual stash. I had my special Shabbat in December, chanting the haftarah while holding my son on my hip. Years later, when I was a congregant at the Jewish Community Center of Fort Lee, I discovered that the melody I was given for chanting wasn't really based on a recognized system of trope (cantillation), and I had to un-learn and learn anew, how to chant a haftarah.

I never imagined becoming a hazzan (Cantor). It wasn't my calling. I was a cabaret singer, who channeled Mel Torme and Bobby Darin! But, I was also the five-year old little girl who adored being in the energy of the sanctuary, accompanying my older brothers to Junior Congregation. I loved the singing. I loved the Hebrew. I loved the smell of the prayer books. I didn't understand why I wasn't allowed on the bimah. I turned away as I got older when I realized I didn't count and wouldn't count, and didn't need to be included, because I wasn't male.

At United Synagogue of Hoboken, way before its time, I counted, because I was an adult Jew. Period. Even today, as an ordained Hazzan, some wounds still have not healed. How could they when the Women of the Wall are still struggling to pray in peace, in Jerusalem, and are tormented by men and women who don't agree with their way of observing the same 613 mitzvot (commandments)?

100-years after Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan's daughter, Judith, was recognized as the first American Bat Mitzvah, it still feels like we have a very long way to go. Much has evolved, albeit too slowly for my taste, over the last 35-years. With thanks to my seminary, The Academy for Jewish Religion for teaching me, with thanks to my amazing colleagues of The Association for Rabbis and Cantors, who share their knowledge every day, and to the amazing Women Cantors' Network. May B'nai Yisrael ,(the Jewish people), continue to flourish and grow, rooted in inclusion, acceptance, and love of Our Creator, and may we each be inspired to lovingly, and meaningfully, "do the math".

Wed, May 25 2022 24 Iyyar 5782