Learning About Who I Am as a Jew Spiritually
Linda Wolan's Adult Bat Mitzvah Talk • June 25, 2017
My parents both immigrated from Germany. My father left in the late 1930s and my mother was rescued by the Kindertransport in 1940. They were charter members of Temple Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, where I attended religious school and was confirmed. My mother became a bat mitzvah at age 60 and she has always been my inspiration. For years I wanted to pursue a more spiritual path but I was at a loss until I met Rabbi Bridget at Jewish Gateways. I feel that becoming a bat mitzvah is a stepping stone for me and I hope it will be an inspiration for my granddaughters.
My family has inspired me to be here today to become a Bat Mitzvah. Both of my parents fled Germany because of persecution by the Nazis. They met in San Francisco at a Jewish Community Center dance and married after my father returned from the European front. After starting married life and a family in San Francisco, they moved to Los Altos and became founding members of Congregation Beth Am. I was raised celebrating Jewish holidays, attending religious school, being confirmed in 10th grade, and participating in the temple youth group -- in other words, a practically ideal Jewish background to start my adult life! My parents had the courage to take on the unknown and learn new things. In my own way I hope to emulate them.
After meeting my husband-to-be at the only Hillel dance I ever attended, I started classes at Cal and we married at Beth Am when I was 20. We always returned to Beth Am for High Holiday services and other events. When our daughter Jenny was in first grade, we joined Congregation Beth El here in Berkeley. The atmosphere was quite a change for both Steven and I! The services had a lot more Hebrew, the melodies of the songs were different, and I had a hard time relating to what was to me a much more traditional approach. As time went on, we connected more closely with other members by joining a Havurah (a Jewish social group) and both of our children were bat and bar mitzvah at Beth El. When Jen was receiving her individual Hebrew training, I sat with her and decided that I wanted to learn Hebrew, but never really committed to the practice that was necessary. I did learn many of the prayers by rote and felt more comfortable participating during services.
To my delight and surprise, my mother became bat mitzvah at age 60. Her actions inspired me and I'm so proud to follow in her footsteps.
Participating in this year-long class has made me realize how much Jewish knowledge I already have, but I have seen this ceremony today as just the first step in the life-long process for me of learning about who I am as a Jew spiritually and continuing to study Torah. I had never really read the Torah (except the portions during the High Holidays or our children's bnai mitzvah) and reading with continuity was a new experience. The commentaries showed the interpretations that make the Torah relevant to life today. Our class discussions made me appreciate that some people could really spend their whole lives interpreting and debating the meaning of Torah.
I have always felt that I had appreciation for other religions and was tolerant of the differences, but realized that I was actually prejudiced against ultraOrthodox Jews! I never understood or valued their scholarly devotion to the Torah, but now I have appreciation for these Jews who on the surface can seem aloof and non-productive. Their devotion to the living Torah is admirable. I had always thought of the Torah as Bible stories and looked at them as a child does-literally. Now through our studies together, I can see these stories as allegorical and can see how the lessons can relate to contemporary life. Our class is hoping to continue on as a Torah study group.
Learning the blessings for daily events has been a special reminder for me to be present and appreciate the moment. Steven and I have been trying to say blessings over our food on a daily basis but that is a work in progress.
I would never be here today if it wasn't for Rabbi Bridget's open and welcoming High Holiday services and her encouragement to pursue the goal of becoming bat mitzvah. When we started studying together, Rabbi Bridget asked us what brought us to the class and I answered that I hoped that my granddaughters would be interested and encouraged to become bat mitzvah as they grow up to be young women -- that is still my wish! I hope that they will follow in my footsteps as I follow my mother's lead. My tallit (prayer shawl) shows the four matriarchs in the Torah, and I would love to pass this down to our granddaughters as a symbol of Jewish learning and family continuity.
Thank you so much for coming to our ceremony. Your support means the world to me!