The bat mitzvah time is an exciting year for middle school young ladies. They never seem to tire from the endless parties, dresses, dancing, swag and food (in no specific order), with each party just as exciting as the one before. What many parents and schools grapple with is the chance to focus on the “mitzvah” part of a bat mitzvah and help the girls gain a connection and understanding to this new stage in life.
The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey is no stranger to bat mitzvah dynamics. Every year the administration assembles the students and discusses the importance of the bat mitzvah age and their changing role as women in klal Yisrael. For this year, RYNJ decided to add another element to the bat mitzvah celebrations in and out of school. The connection to Torah and mitzvot should be a mindset and a way of life in every encounter and part of the day. “This year holds so much potential for our young ladies, and our hope for them is that in addition to enjoying themselves at each simcha they attend, they also gain an understanding of what it means to have reached gil mitzvot and conduct themselves accordingly,” said Cindy Zucker, middle school girls’ Judaic Studies assistant principal.
The administration adapted the material this year to allow for a cross-curricular program that incorporated hashkafa and midot woven throughout both Hebrew and English subjects, as well as a chesed activity, art projects and, together with the English department teachers Naomi Landsman and Christina Chandras, a writing component. Adam Mermelstein, RYNJ president and parent of a bat mitzvah age daughter, remarked, “I am proud that RYNJ initiated such a special program. All the students gained a greater perspective of what it means to become a bat mitzvah.”
Over the course of the school year, the sixth graders were treated to presentations from inspiring and engaging women of the greater North Jersey community. Nechama Price, Tanach professor at Stern College for Women, as well as a RYNJ graduate herself and a mother of a current sixth grade girl, kicked off the program with her presentation about Devorah Hanevia. “This opportunity to learn about our role models from a dynamic presenter has been a meaningful occasion and powerful springboard into the busy year,” said. Zucker.
Other speakers included the fabulous mother-daughter team of Rebbetzin Shevi Yudin and Rebbetzin Chaviva Rothwachs, RYNJ graduate and parent. Together they focused on the mutual respect a mother and daughter have for each other with the interchangeable role of teacher and student in this special relationship. They left the students with the message that cultivating a nature that embraces development of midot, rather than solely academic accomplishments, will serve them throughout life. Rebbetzin Michal Zahtz, RYNJ parent, also addressed the talmidot and helped them connect with their place in a link of the unbroken chain of Jewish women.
The bat mitzvah curriculum culminated in a gala banquet for mothers and daughters, as the girls expressed their hakarat hatov and shared samples of their writing compositions in which they described a woman they view as a role model. Even the Purim mishloach manot centerpieces merged these values meaningfully, as earlier in the week the girls assembled these packages, and following the banquet they were donated to Chesed 24/7. The girls were all excited to present and proud of the accomplishments they achieved together.
Instead of feeling obligated to bring a gift to each bat mitzvah, many schools organize a grade gift. This year, the sixth graders had a selection of siddurim from which to choose, and they were given out at the banquet, with each girl presenting the siddur to another. “This gift allowed the girls to focus on the lessons we hope they receive during the year,” said Zucker. “Rather than worrying about individual gifts, here is a way they can support each other with a siddur that will serve as a memento from this time, God willing, for years to come.” The parents also appreciated channeling the focus this year. “The girls have so many wonderful parties and celebrations, and this added an extra element and added a special meaning for them,” said one mother.
Whether it was the chesed project, the guest speakers, the writing project or the banquet itself, the goal of this year was to help make a meaningful connection for the talmidot. “These speakers are women who are community leaders and serve as sources of inspiration for our daughters,” said Zucker. As the school year comes to a close, the girls will have one more speaker, but the values and messages will hopefully stay with them far into the future. “The real focus of the program is the idea that we have role models all around us,” said RYNJ Head of School Rabbi Daniel Price, “in our rich Jewish history, in our communities and in our own families.”
By Jenny Gans