Changing Expectations

Women’s League is encouraging girls in Israel to mark becoming b’not mitzvah in a religiously meaningful way.

by Sarrae G. Crane

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Jewish Girl

Here in North America we take for granted that women participate in prayer services – wearing tallit and tefillin if they so desire – and hold positions as professionally trained rabbis, cantors and educators and as qualified lay leaders.

In Israel, the same holds true for women in the Masorti movement. At recent Women’s League conventions Israeli delegates described how they are finding a connection to Judaism through the movement  and in Masorti kehillot across the country. Just as in North America, women hold key leadership positions in the movement, both as volunteers and as rabbis and educators. Moreover, the movement is at the forefront of championing rights for women  in the public sphere as is evident by the Masorti signs visible at demonstrations in support of women’s rights on buses and to be treated properly.

Women’s League takes great pride in the fact that for decades we have worked hand-in-hand with our Israeli sisters to enhance the role of women, both in the pulpit and in the community. With each passing year the attendance at our days of study grows reflecting Israeli women’s interest in intellectually satisfying adult Jewish learning.

But one area of Jewish ritual life remains lopsided between what is the norm in Conservative synagogues in North America and what happens in Israel. We take it for granted that our daughters will mark their becoming b’not mitzvah with religious ceremonies similar to those of their brothers. By contrast, most girls in Israel do not expect to mark their coming of age as Jewish adults in the same way as do boys. Even though the boys in Masorti kehillot study for a bar mitzvah, very few girls even consider the possibility. While generations of North American women have become b’not mitzvah – either as teens or as adults – most Israeli  mothers have not, and consequently they don’t see the need for their daughters to have one either.

Even those who do celebrate becoming a bat mitzvah in a synagogue (usually because their mothers had one before making aliyah) often refrain from inviting their friends because they are worried about their reactions. An additional deterrent is the fact that bat mitzvah age in Israel is 12, so that by the time girls are exposed to their friends’ bar mitzvah cycle it is too late for them to prepare for something for themselves.

The Masorti movement is eager to change this trend and to increase the number of girls who celebrate becoming b’not mitzvah with a meaningful religious ceremony. The movement is developing an outreach program for young girls and their families (especially their moms) to engage them in becoming proud, knowledgeable Jews, so that becoming a bat mitzvah will be an expected and normative celebration for them and for their communities.

Women’s League historically has strived to strengthen the ties of North American women to Judaism in their synagogues as well as at home, advocating for women rabbis and promoting adult bat mitzvah programs, even publishing a two-year adult bat mitzvah curriculum. So it is appropriate and fitting that Masorti Israel has asked us to support developing programs for young Israeli women to find religious meaning by becoming b’not mitzvah. They have invited us to help create pilot programs for girls and their mothers to study together about women and Judaism. Programs such as these will indeed enhance the ties of these girls and women to Judaism. We hope that Women’s League members and Masorti women will work together to fulfill our shared goal.

Sarrae G. Crane is executive director of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.