Many young children dream of having a pony or going to Disneyland. Carrie Stull, the J’s Director of Early Childhood, dreamed of having a bat mitzvah.
This traditional coming-of-age ritual for 13-year-olds girls (bat mitzvah) and boys (bar mitzvah) marks the transition into adulthood within the Jewish community. (The plural form, b’nai mitzvah, will also appear in this article.)
“I always felt this connection to my religion inside of me,” Carrie said. She loved celebrating Jewish holidays and used to beg her mom to let her attend Hebrew School in hopes of strengthening the link she felt to Judaism. Unfortunately, they couldn’t afford it, so Carrie put her bat mitzvah dreams on hold.
Now, decades later, Carrie is about to make her childhood dreams a reality. On November 20, she’ll finally have her bat mitzvah.
Over the past two years – first in person, and then on Zoom – Carrie and her seven classmates in Temple Beth Am’s adult b’nai mitzvah class met weekly to prepare. They worked with the rabbi to learn how to read Hebrew and chant from the Torah, explore Jewish traditions, and each write their own d’var Torah or d’var Tefillah (a talk based on their assigned Torah portion or prayer).
Although the b’nai mitzvah was originally scheduled for last February, the group decided to postpone hoping to gather in person. “We wanted to have this experience together as one community,” Carrie said. “It wouldn’t have been the same doing this at home via Zoom — I wanted to be able to actually read from the Torah, to touch the scrolls, to have the entire experience.”
Juggling work, family, and bat mitzvah preparation (not to mention helping her son Landon prepare for his bar mitzvah this past weekend) has been challenging for Carrie. She sometimes questioned whether she could really do it — but she knew she had to push through her moments of doubt.
“I don’t follow through for myself very well,” she admitted. “I take care of everyone else and tend to put things for me on the back burner. But this is a promise I’ve made to myself my whole life. I just knew I had to finish it.”
Back in ECS, Carrie is grateful to find opportunities to put her newfound skills to work. Now she can read Hebrew stories to the children and has more confidence explaining Jewish traditions to our non-Jewish teachers. She even feels more joy and connection at weekly ECS community Shabbat, where the children gather to sing, dance, and celebrate together.
She’s also seen a change in herself. “This past year, I’ve noticed myself standing up for what I believe in more and I wonder if some of that comes from the fact that I’ve had to fight for this my whole life,” she said. “I’m realizing it’s okay to fight for me.”
The power of resilience, joy, and learning something new are just some of the impactful lessons Carrie will take with her long after her bat mitzvah. As she approaches the ceremony with excitement, she’s also feeling some sadness that it will be over. But, as a lifelong learner and longtime educator, she’s eager to figure out what’s next. “I’m always learning with the teachers and the children in ECS, but this has been a good reminder that I can learn something new—just for me—and that’s been really exciting.”