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Adult B'nai Mitzvah

The Adult B'nai Mitzvah by Risa Askin
(Reprinted from South Florida's B'nai Mitzvah!)

I never considered teaching adults until I was asked to teach an Adult B'nai Mitzvah class several years ago in Tampa, Fl. After I got over my anxiety I took notice of the excitement my class was demonstrating. Camaraderie developed, and you could sense the joy and fulfillment that was taking place. These students began coming to services, and were thrilled every time they recognized phrases and words which they had learned. This also helped them to be able to participate in services more often. These adults were taking their lessons home and beginning to have Shabbat dinners, lighting candles, reciting Kiddush, and blessing their children. They felt like that role models that they were. They were demonstrating that it is never too late to learn, and that education continues throughout people's lives. "The road to learning is endless"(Jacob Ben Asher).

When I came to South Florida nine years ago, I continued on the path of teaching adults through my synagogues, Temple Beth Torah, Congregation Beth Hillel of Margate, and the organization Jewish National Outreach. I presently teach adults of all ages how to read Hebrew and sing the prayers for Friday night and Saturday morning services. Many of the students I have taught so far have continued with me to have B'nai Mitzvah ceremonies. Maybe they did not have a ceremony when they were younger due to the Holocaust, or it may not have been important to their parents, or girls did not have B'not Mitzvah years ago, or parents had a negative experience with a shul. My students either learn in a class situation or independently. Some students do not have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. They are learning to be able to help their children through Hebrew School, or for self-education, spirituality, and fulfillment. In preparation for B'nai Mitzvah, whether or not students have been taught by me before, they learn or review Hebrew, learn how to sing prayers from the Friday night and Saturday morning services, learn basic translation and the concept of the prayers, learn to recite Haftarah and Torah from trope, learn about the holidays, Shabbat, and more.

By teaching these adults I feel that I am contributing to Jewish survival. When parents take what they are learning home, and their children see their parents studying and using what they are learning, they are demonstrating how important it is to have Judaism in their lives. After seeing this hopefully their children will continue with the tradition (l'dor vador). I have taught many grandparents and it is inspiring to see how proud their children and grandchildren are when they come to the B'nai Mitzvah ceremony.

A couple of highlights for me were watching an 85 year old student chant Haftarah and Torah from trope during her ceremony. Another student wanted to learn the Shabbat Mincha (afternoon) service so he can lead it for his 50th wedding anniversary before the celebration. I have gained so much naches (joy) from all of my students and I feel that I have the easy part, which is teaching. My students have the more difficult task, the obligation and the commitment of learning and studying.

I am not fishing for compliments. My thank you is watching my students learn and take pride in what they are learning and the appreciation is being shown by my students wanting to continue learning with me even after their B'nai Mitzvah ceremonies.

I thank G-d for the opportunity he gave me, the gift of teaching, and to share my knowledge with others so they may do the same.

Adult B'nai Mitzvah Emerges From Inspiration
The desire to become closer with their religion has inspired an exciting new experience for five amazing women. Over the past three years Donna Fagelbaum, Lois Kampf, Iris Serle, Beth Snyder, and Bonnie Turtz, all varying in age, have embarked on a journey to discover their religion and found many more treasures along the way.

In their youth, many of these women did not become Bat Mitzvah because it just wasn't common for girls. Each woman, influenced by her own desire to better understand temple services and become closer with her heritage, joined a B'not Mitzvah group, meeting every Tuesday at Temple Beth Torah in Tamarac, Florida. Though some family members expressed mixed reactions, the women began attending classes weekly. Their teacher, Lori Neiberg, led them through their studies with care and compassion. Having become an Adult Bat Mitzvah herself, she was very comforting to the group and very excited about their progress.

As the classes continued, the members became close friends and even formed study groups in their homes, each one assisting the other when necessary. Bonnie Turtz feels that there is “such a warmth and true bond between us that words do not give it justice. When you meet together every week you become part of each others’ lives, and we truly care for one another. When someone doesn't show up for class we all worry. We have blended as a group and we all rely on each other for this special day. Our heritage teaches us about compassion and this group as encompassed that.” Others found joy and a great sense of camaraderie within the small group that has since become more like an extended family.

With much dedication, the five women began to understand the Parsha and feel more comfortable when attending service. With the progression of time the women also found that their families were more understanding and supportive of their endeavors. The pride they’ve found in Rabbi Gold, Lori Neiberg, their families, and most importantly within themselves has been a major motivating factor in their efforts.

Now feeling a true sense of accomplishment all of the women are excited about the service. Some nervousness has been expressed about their upcoming Alliyah, but confidence seems quite high thanks to Lori. When contacted for comment, she said, "I wanted them to attain that level of comfort and hope that it will continue to grow in the years to come. I hope that this is just the beginning for them and they will continue to be involved in the synagogue, the local Jewish community, and be role models for Jewish men and women all over the world."

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