By Elaine Reuben, October 2013
Bat Mitzvah, present, absent or partial, seems to be significant in many of the stories here. Unusual as it still was then.
I did have a Bat Mitzvah, “just like the Bar Mitzvah boys,” in 1954: my then rabbi, in a Conservative congregation in the Midwest, thought himself a Reconstructionist, the movement in which this modern recognition of daughters began.
The congregation didn’t mind (as far as I know), that I read and lead and spoke on the bima, wearing a tallis — but they didn’t let it affect them positively either. No adult women there wore a tallis, none were offered (perhaps few sought) any ritual roles except lighting candles and opening the ark: there was no egalitarian community to enter and participate in after my Bat Mitzvah. And would not be for many years.
In those years, there was more than slowly and not-so-simply bringing girls and women to the bima. There were Rosh Hodesh groups and developments of non-sexist language and liturgy, art and literature reflecting women’s voices, scholarly work on both the past and present of Jewish women and efforts toward their future with the ordination of women and the establishment of women’s study and t’fillah groups.
Many of us had grown up proud to be Jewish women, but — Bible stories aside — more of that pride came from the work of women’s organizations like Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women (or tales of women in the IDF and on the kibbutzim and in social justice movements around the world) than from the spiritual center of our religion.
Finally, however, the pieces of our stories and the possibilities of our Jewish lives have come together here: we wish that for our sisters and brothers in Israel.