Scroll reversal :Lessons in life, Hebrew for two bat mitzvah girls

At first glance, you wouldn’t expect 69-year-old Jewish Home resident Rachel Alhadeff and Brandeis Hillel Day School seventh-grader Adi Reicher Alouf to have much in common.

But surprisingly, the two women are sharing an important Jewish rite of passage just months apart from one another: their bat mitzvahs.

And even more surprisingly, it was Adi who helped prepare Rachel for her big day.

Adi, a fluent Hebrew speaker, has been tutoring Rachel once a week in Hebrew since September 2007. Because the two have grown close through their tutoring relationship, Adi attended Rachel’s late December bat mitzvah at the Jewish Home synagogue. The Brandeis student was thrilled to see all their hard work pay off as Rachel recited the Hebrew prayers with ease.

Adi learned about the volunteer opportunities available at the Jewish Home from visiting a great-aunt who lives there. While many preteens become volunteers due to compulsory school programs, Adi needed no such prodding. “It was a great opportunity to help out and have fun at the same time,” she said.

Now, Adi is preparing for her own bat mitzvah in late May, and speaking Hebrew from childhood has been a big help. Because her father is Israeli, Adi has spent many summers in Israel, and even lived there with her family for a year. Because of this, one of her two passions in life is Israel.

Her other passion is less predictable. Despite the fact that no one else in her family plays sports, Adi loves to play basketball. She’s been playing since she could walk, she joked. Though she also enjoys writing, cooking and school, Adi’s biggest goal in life is to someday serve in the Israeli army.

“I think the army will help me with anything I want to do in life, because I can acquire any skills I need in the army,” she said.

For Rachel, Saturday or Sunday visits from Adi are the highlights of her week. Because she is in a wheelchair and wears an oxygen mask, she needs the care that living at the Jewish Home provides.

When Rachel was Adi’s age, it

wasn’t customary for girls to have bat mitzvahs, she said. But because she has always wanted to have one, she did it “when the first opportunity came to study and learn Hebrew.” And because she never married and has no children, her relationship with Adi is all the more precious.

Now that Rachel’s bat mitzvah has passed, the pair have continued meeting not only to continue with the Hebrew lessons, but also to discuss topics in Judaism and Torah. They both want to keep meeting for as long as possible.

For Adi, teaching is a wonderful experience, but she said she’d be happy doing any volunteer work at the Jewish Home, such as working in the cafeteria or playing games with residents. It is not the task that matters to her, but the feeling of contribution. She also has donated money to causes like Darfur.

“I am here to help, and to have that feel-good feeling when I’m done,” she said.

When Adi has her bat mitzvah next month, one of her biggest fans will be sitting in the audience, cheering her on. Despite her difficulty traveling, Rachel is determined to be in the sanctuary, mentally repeating along with Adi all the Hebrew words that she has learned.