Inspired by kids, moms celebrate own bat mitzvahs

Although Mady Markowitz's kids have been studying Hebrew since the third grade, she wasn't completely comfortable about their approaching ceremonies.

"How could I ask them to see their bar mitzvahs as a meaningful religious experience when I didn't know the meaning myself?" said the Walnut Creek woman. "I wasn't feeling comfortable because I didn't know the prayers or how to read the Hebrew."

Nine months of personal study provided the meaning Markowitz was looking for. To help herself and her two sons realize the historical and religious significance of this rite of passage, Markowitz joined eight others in September in an adult b'nai mitzvah class at Lafayette's Temple Isaiah. Two months ago, she celebrated her own bat mitzvah.

Her son Josh will have a bar mitzvah this September, followed by son Jake in August of 1996.

"Since my bat mitzvah, they saw me studying, observed and followed my lead," said Markowitz. "I feel lucky that I was able to show them, help them and provide an example."

Like Markowitz, Isaiah member Carolyn Isseks, also of Walnut Creek, was inspired to have a bat mitzvah by her children.

"Having my bat mitzvah enabled me to be familiar with Hebrew so that I could help my son prepare for his, and now I am looking forward to helping my other son," she said.

Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco also provides adult congregants members the chance to study together and share a group b'nai mitzvah, which will be held next month. Several women in this year's and last year's classes had children celebrating b'nai mitzvah around the same time.

Like the women in the class at Isaiah, many did not have formal training in Judaism and Hebrew when they were young, when bat mitzvahs were less common.

"I've always wanted a bat mitzvah, but I never had the opportunity as a child," said San Franciscan Marsha Glantz, who decided to have her own celebration last August, a year after daughter Frieda's bat mitzvah.

"As part of Frieda's requirement, she had to attend synagogue once a week. I started to go with her, and this made me feel more comfortable with the service," said Glantz, who wanted her daughter to have the honor of being the first bat mitzvah on both sides of the family.

Glantz said Frieda reads trope, the musical embellishment of the liturgy, very well, and helped her mother by reading major parts of the adult b'nai mitzvah service.

"Between Frieda practicing with me, going to services and trope class I became more familiar with the service," Glantz said. "I now feel that I'm really part of the community."

Like Glantz, Barbara Nelson of Walnut Creek celebrated her bat mitzvah a year after her daughter's. Nelson's was in June, at Isaiah, where daughter Sarah Wright also had her ceremony. Son Daniel will be bar mitzvah in September 1996.

Nelson said she was impressed by the public commitment her daughter had made to Judaism.

"I was never given the opportunity as a child to have a bat mitzvah and I've always felt something was missing from my education and my place in the community," she said. After getting an aliyah (Torah blessing) and giving a speech at Sarah's bat mitzvah, Nelson decided she wanted to prepare for her own bat mitzvah.

Her first exposure to bat mitzvah study came through helping her daughter. "But I didn't know Hebrew, so I was only able to listen and offer support and encouragement," she said. "After [my bat mitzvah], I had a greater sense of integrity and connection to my children."

When Beth Sholom began offering a Torah trope class last year, the goal was to teach adults Torah-reading skills, rather than to prepare them for a b'nai mitzvah ceremony. Midway through the class, however, teacher Lisa Malik asked if anyone wanted to have their own ceremony; 10 of the 13 students did. They picked the Torah portion Re'eh for an August 1994 ceremony.

Malik said many took the class to learn how to read trope, but three women in the group had daughters who were preparing for their own bat mitzvahs. "The mothers and daughters helped each other with their respective ceremonies," she said.

Some of the children of Beth Sholom's adult bat mitzvahs participated in their mothers' ceremony. Glantz's daughter Frieda led the musaf service, while Minette Gutfreund's daughter Mia led the morning shacharit. Others were called for aliyot and participated in the opening and closing of the ark.

"I took the trope class to learn how to read so I could help my daughter study for her bat mitzvah," said Minette Gutfreund of San Francisco. "Then I thought, why don't I have one?"

Mia, who "felt honored to read at her [mother's] bat mitzvah" in 1994, had celebrated her own three months before. "Seeing me was maybe an influence, but she's also inspired me and has become a role model," she said.

Minette Gutfreund's commitment influenced her daughter to remain involved with the synagogue after her bat mitzvah.

"My mother would go with me to services [when I was meeting my attendance] requirement and she kept going even when my requirement was up," Mia said. "She showed me that is important to stay involved and do more after my bat mitzvah. Now I read at High Holy Day services."

Mia said she enjoyed preparing along with her mother. "We were both going through the same thing, so we understood each other. It made it more fun, plus we got to bond."