By Rabbi Marion Shulevitz, October 2013
As a very little girl, I loved going with my father to our Conservative synagogue in Detroit. I loved sitting next to him, pretending I could read the Siddur, and when I got old enough, reading with him. In the children’s service, I was thrilled to be called up for an "aliyah," and to read the brachot. However, even then I noticed that the boys were called up alone, while the girls could only go up to the bimah along with a boy. I dreamed of being a rabbi—but first, I wanted a Bar Mitzvah (the term Bat Mitzvah had not been coined yet).
Since this was the 1930s/40s, my dreams remained just that—dreams. I went to Hebrew school, a Hebrew High School, and a few years of what was called Hebrew College. I spent three summers at a Hebrew-speaking camp and one summer in Israel, coming home fluent in Hebrew and versed in Bible, Hebrew Literature, and Jewish history. I could lead services, give a "drosh," teach Hebrew school—but I could NOT have a Bat Mitzvah or even think of studying in Rabbinical School.
Fast forward to the early 50s to 1976. My family and I, husband and three children, are living in Miami, members of Beth David Congregation. Rabbi Landau has just taken the shul egalitarian, although neither he nor we knew exactly what that meant. He also instituted Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for all the women who had been denied a Bat Mitzvah as girls—quite a large number at that time. So, on the Shabbat of Hol HaMoed Pesach my first dream came true—I had a Bat Mitzvah! I read from the Torah and delivered a very short D’var Torah. There was no party, since it was Pesach, but that was the least of my concerns.
Over the next few years, I read fairly often from the Torah—both for Beth David, and occasionally in other synagogues, Conservative and Reform, and I led weekday services on a regular basis. I began studying Talmud –that had not been taught in my Hebrew school. I began to dream again that perhaps I could become a rabbi; I knew there were women Reform rabbis. But that is a story for another day.
Rabbi Marion Shulevitz was ordained by the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1989 and has served as a hospice, hospital and nursing home chaplain since then. She is currently the Jewish chaplain at the Amsterdam Nursing Home in Manhattan.