Coming-of-age ceremony tests a girl’s resolve —and her nerve

By Melissa Hirschl

From time immemorial, cultures around the world have been celebrating a colorful mix of “coming of age” ceremonies. From aboriginal rites of puberty to modern-day Roman Catholic confirmations, these rites symbolize the entrance into larger responsibilities and an expanded view of life.

Upon turning 12 years old, a Jewish girl traditionally experiences a marvelous milestone in her life called a Bat Mitzvah.

According to Judaism, this venerable religious experience is obligated by God’s commandments as prescribed in the Torah (the first five books of Moses) and as interpreted by Moses, the prophets, the sages and the rabbis.

Literally meaning “daughter of the commandment,” the Bat Mitzvah ceremony marks the completion of a concentrated course of study, often celebrated afterwards with a festive meal and party for family and friends.

These parties run the gamut from simple dinners to extravagant affairs, complete with live entertainment and lots of interactive activities for the teens.

Either way, the most compelling reason for the event is to allow the Bat Mitzvah girl to honor her unique and cherished heritage.

There’s no question that adolescence can be daunting, and an upcoming Bat Mitzvah can test the nerves of the most stoic.

The Kyrene Corridor’s Bat Mitzvah Club, overseen by the local Chabad congregation in Chandler, provides leadership, support and needed encouragement to young women as they stretch their emotional and spiritual wings during this fragile time of life.

“It’s a club by girls, for girls, starring girls,” says Rabbi Mendy Deitsch of Chabbad.

Visiting 19-year-old interns Ody Meer ( New Jersey) and Naomi Medalie (South Africa) conduct the club and assist the girls in the quest to make the Bat Mitzvah day sparkle.

These competent and energetic young women spend countless hours planning crafts, field trips and a plethora of activities aimed at self-enhancement and Jewish education.

In addition to the valuable skills they provide to the Bat Mitzvah club, they also provide support and assistance for all the synagogue’s youth programs.

“These girls provide the girls with tools to enhance self esteem, pride in Judaism and confidence,” says Deitsch.

“They also provide them with a wonderful moral and ethical background, so that the girls can be productive adults and citizens.”

In addition to the positive ideas put forth by the assistants, the girls also come up with their own positive initiatives, such as social activities, that they want to implement.

The interns say they love coming here to meet different people, but most of all they want to touch lives,” says Dietsch.

“And that’s what they do--they make an impact on the community.”

A variety of teen-oriented themes are highlighted at the monthly meetings; November’s focus was on relationships between the girls, their friends, family and God.

“Every meeting focuses on different aspects of what it means to be a Jewish woman,” said intern Meer.

According to Deitsch, the club is constantly working to keep its offerings new and fun-filled so girls will keep returning and, importantly, tell their friends about it.

Says Dietsch:

“We keep developing novel programs to make the experience better and better. We’re also interested in getting the girls involved in the community.”

In that vein, the girls visit senior centers to cheer spirits, donate clothing for the poor, assist at animal shelters and ship books to Israel, according to Dietsch.

One event the club does annually involves presenting the girls with a special candlestick at the time of their birthdays.

“This is because a Jewish woman has the awesome responsibility to light up the world and bring joy, peace, and happiness to the darkness,” says Deitsch.

Introspective look

The teens look inward as well as outward in this special club. To encourage introspection and reflection of personal experiences, the club provides each girl with her own journal.

“They write down what they learn at the meetings and how they feel about the information they’ve absorbed,” says intern Meer.

At the end of the course, care is taken to make the girls feel like the princesses they are. Presentations and speeches are given at a very elegant banquet ceremony to which parents and family members are invited to, according to Dietsch.

“We try hard to make the girls feel very special and elite,” he said.

“I believe that every girl Jewish girl from the ages of 11-13 should belong to the club, regardless of how religious they are,” says Masha Mazer, a former member.

“I belonged to the club for two years, and I think that it is a fun way to meet other Jewish girls and to learn something also.”

An important concept Mazer says she learned was how special it is to be a Jewish girl and how that uniqueness can be reflected in the way they dress and act.

“While learning these concepts we did fun activities that went along with the meetings. This is one of the best experiences that I had, and I will remember what I learned the Bat Mitzvah Club forever.”

For girls graduating from the club, Chabad also sponsors a teen group, “Adolescence with Attitude,” to engage kids and reinforce what they’ve already learned.

There is also a Youth Zone program for boys and girls aged six to 11.

Information: Chabbad at (480) 753-5366 or the interns, Meer or Medalie, at (480) 855-4333. Meetings are different days each month.

Chabad of the East Valley is located at 3855 W. Ray Road, Suite 6, Chandler.