My Journey to This Moment
– Meryle Gurmankin, June 16, 2018
Two years ago I decided to embark on this journey to become an adult Bat Mitzvah. Why did I decide to spend time each month preparing for this day?
I became a Bat Mitzvah when I was thirteen and had attended Hebrew School and Gratz College during my elementary and my high school years, so didn’t I already know enough? Hmm the big question.
When I became a member of Kol Ami over ten years ago, I was attracted to this reform congregation for a variety of reasons. Having been raised in a conservative home with orthodox grandparents, I learned in very traditional ways. Kol Ami clearly met my more global and feminist beliefs and Reform Judaism seemed to hold the answer to my belief in Tikun Olam, Healing the world. I wanted to learn more about Reform Judaism and I did readings and attended Adult education classes with Rabbi Holin and other guest educators. Learning is something I crave and as my family will tell you, I am always seeking to learn new things and more and more of them. I hope to continue my “education” forever.
As I watched my grandson prepare for his Bar Mitzvah and participated in his service, I realized the great meaning that tradition had for me as well as the family. I understood the importance of the continuation of tradition and the necessity of helping transmit that understanding to future generations.
As I watched my granddaughter prepare for her Bat Mitzvah which was this past October and as I helped her prepare, which included standing with her as she practiced reading from the Torah, I realized that this was one of the main reasons that I chose to participate in this B’nai Mitzvah ceremony.
Aside from learning from Roz and Rabbi, more about Judaism from the Reform perspective, I would now be “allowed” to read from the Torah. Yes while I did celebrate my Bat Mitzvah in 1961, I was not permitted to read from the Torah, nor was I allowed to participate in the Saturday Shabbat service for the occasion. I shared a Friday night service with a fellow classmate and at that time it was enough. As a 13 year old, that was fine.
As a grown woman, having lived through and having participated in much of the Women’s movement, I realized that there was more that I wanted. I remember standing with my granddaughter during one of her pre Bat Mitzvah rehearsals at the Torah and I became overcome with emotion at her standing and actually reading from the Torah scroll. On our way home from the synagogue she asked me why I was so teary. I remember telling her that she was able in this time of equality to stand and read from the Torah, an activity that I and her mother were not permitted to do. This is something that I treasure, the opportunity to actually stand on the bimah and look at the Torah scroll. At Saturday services Rabbi always asks who would like to carry the Torah scroll. While I always had the desire to do so I never volunteered. I am in awe of those who carry it, as in my mind only the men could have that privilege. I now believe that I will be able to accept that offer and proudly carry the scroll. As I prepared for this day, learning my Torah portion, reading and studying the various interpretations, I came across a book, entitled Re Visions: Seeing Torah through A Feminist Lens by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Rabbi Goldstein is Director of Kolel a center for liberal Jewish Learning at the adult education institute of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism. Reading this along with traditional texts encouraged me to understand the lives of the women in the stories of the Torah — Eve, Sarah, Leah, Rachael, Rebecca, Miriam, and understand the various interpretations of the Torah’s restriction toward women. This book helps to uncover the female spirit in the rites, rituals and beliefs of our ancestors. I now believe that I also have the right and privilege to read from and carry the sacred scroll. I am grateful for the opportunity to chant my portion. Studying with Rebecca enabled me to gain much from her guidance. I realized that I could learn to chant and that I even at my age could learn new things. I can truly say that learning Trope and my portion was one of the most difficult and satisfying activities that I have done.
I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to continue my education and that I am able to share this important day with my family and friends and fellow classmates.