By Lisa Septimus
“From the moment Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim till the moment He took them to Eretz Yisrael, He took care of all their needs.” This was the first line of my bat mitzvah speech, one that I recited more than 25 years ago. It is not because of my incredible memory that I remember this line; rather, it is because it was the first line of the speech whose creation and delivery were the most meaningful parts of my bat mitzvah.
In the community where I grew up, the Young Israel of Scarsdale, each bar and bat mitzvah was seen as an opportunity for that child to get to know the rabbi and be introduced to the adult community as well. Every child was required to take a class with the rabbi. Admittedly, I can’t remember much of the content of what we learned, but I still remember the thrill of going. Then, as my bat mitzvah drew closer, I learned with the rabbi one on one a few times and wrote a speech.
Rabbi Rubenstein also practiced the speech with me, gesturing for me to speak either louder or slower. The time I spent learning and practicing my speech helped me feel that my bat mitzvah had both religious and spiritual importance and that I had an important religious role to play in my community even though it was a different role than that of a man.
Being the mother of three daughters, I have often imagined different ways to mark their bat mitzvahs. Drawing on my own experience, I encouraged my husband, Rabbi Yehuda Septimus, rabbi of Young Israel of North Woodmere, to establish the tradition of bat mitzvah girls speaking from the pulpit in our shul. I am proud that many girls in North Woodmere have the chance to learn with my husband or me and prepare for this meaningful time in their lives. But since there are no uniform expectations for girls celebrating bat mitzvahs, we need to be creative and find multiple avenues for making their bat mitzvahs truly meaningful experiences.
About five years ago, I heard about a wonderful idea being implemented in Englewood under the leadership of Rebbetzin Chana Reichman and coordinated by Emunah of America. They run a yearly mother—daughter bat mitzvah mission in Israel. The trip is geared towards giving 12-year-olds a chesed-focused, hands-on, fun-filled trip to Israel. I knew immediately that I wanted to help make this happen in the Five Towns.
Now, five years later, with Emunah’s help and communal interest, the first Five Towns Mother—Daughter Bat Mitzvah Mission will iy’H spend six days in Israel the week of Thanksgiving. On the trip, the girls will learn about and experience firsthand the three pillars of Judaism: Torah, avodah/tefillah, and gemilut chasadim. We are hoping to attract 15 enthusiastic mothers and daughters who want the bat mitzvah experience to be memorable for the way that it shaped them and enabled them to see themselves as important contributors to Torah, to chesed, to tefillah, and to religious life and the community.
For more information, please contact Debbie Gesser at 212-564-9045, ext. 321, Debbie@Emunah.org.