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On Saturday, March 16, 2019, Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark was the backdrop for 8 adults celebrating being b’nei mitzvah. The group was made up of men and women from different backgrounds, most in their 60’s, who have been waiting a lifetime for this opportunity. Some were born outside the United States, some were born into another religion, and some were just never given this opportunity as a 12 or 13 year old.
They studied and prepared over many months for this day with Rabbi Simon Rosenbach and fellow congregant Dubra Shenker.
This is the first adult b’nei mitzvah class since 1999 when a group of 80 and 90 year olds celebrated being b’nei mitzvah; seven men who had a second bar mitzvah, and one women who had her first bat mitzvah at 84.
The March 2019 class included…
I started to attend services after my mother died back in 1997. I felt my Jewish connection then. I was told by the Rabbi as long as I attend services I will pick up the tunes and prayers. I never learned Hebrew but have a strong Jewish connection.
When I was child, young adult and almost all the time before Soviet Union collapsed I knew that I am Jewish, but really did not too much, and did not understand what it means.
I thought like many other people of my generation that this is what is written in my I.D. by some authority based on my ancestry. All religions activities were not forbidden, but very unwelcomed. And I believed that it has to be like this. So did my friends and relatives.
Except my grandma. My father’s mother prayed at home, went to synagogue, tried to follow Jewish rules. She talked to her apartment neighbor (also Jewish) about Israel Arab war saying that Israel is fighting to survive and Arabs are aggressors. And I heard this when she was babysitting for me. And when I repeated this to my parents my father expressed his unhappiness to his mother, but she was firm and I don’t remember any more her babysitting with me. But when I became older and started to tell her that there is no god and her preying nonsense she was telling me that I, my parents, friends, young relatives don’t understand anything and she is preying for all of us.
Now I understand how right and courageous she was. Now I recognize from very long time ago some Jewish Yiddish words that I remember from grandma. Now I believe that her prayers in synagogue during Second World War saved my father. Many years ago she told me about it, but I understand it now. Now remembering her I am trying to understand more what it means to be Jewish. I want to be real good Jew and be part of my Jewish roots. I feel upset for generations who grow up in Soviet time did not have possibilities to be real Jew. But strange enough nationality Jewish written in our Soviet I.D.’s also reminded us that we still Jewish and have to be together and be proud of this. And today on my way to be real good Jew and continue my Jewish ancestry, my future bat mitzvah is a very important step on it.
Wanda Rubinstein Gohler
I decided to join the Bat Mitzvah group to become a student of Judaism.
For most of my life I described myself as being merely culturally Jewish.
The passing of my parents, Louis and Paula Rubinstein, brought me to attend synagogues in Brooklyn where I said Kaddish for them.
Now as I light the Shabbos candles on Friday night I truly feel the presence of my mother; her sleight of hand as she once lit them when I was a child.
I believe it is the Neshemas of my loving parents that led me to follow and learn to be a better Jew.
Why bar mitzvah for me now at my age?
Better late than never. And after more than a half of century of being Jewish, I’m way overdue.
Tim Bezalel Lee
In Jewish tradition there is an adage that the wealthy man is he who is satisfied with his lot; it is added quickly, that this only applies to material things in a material world and that one should never be satisfied spiritually.
Spiritually, one should always be seeking, exploring, and thirsting for more, like the prospectors of the old west, chipping away at dirt and rock; gently brushing away the resulting fragments to examine closely whatever lay beneath and then, chipping some more. Day after day (sometimes year after year) they’re out there digging a little deeper and a little more fervently for that precious nugget. That some became rich, while others went insane, proved little deterrent to those persons locked in the quest for their vaunted treasure.
It seems I too have fallen victim to this affliction. But, the nuggets I seek are not to be found in the ground; but in the weekly Shabbat services at Congregation Ahavas Sholom. Shabbat services are very important to me, giving me a sense of peace and purpose that’s very much needed after enduring another week of the uncontrollable chaos that is this world. The treasure I seek is a deeper understanding of the liturgy and service structure. The profound wisdom found in the words of the Torah text is nothing less than gold. Every time I dig a little deeper into the meaning and structure of the service I am rewarded; But, I don’t feel I understand enough, there is more to learn, much more, so the search continues.
All my life I have loved the Lord with my whole heart and with my whole soul.
I majored in World Religions in college and never stopped striving to become closer to God. I always found Judaism to be so compelling for its concentration on learning and reasoning.
I have studied Hebrew for many years at JCC’s as well as Torah with Rabbis.
At Ahavas Sholom, my love of Torah and Judaism have been nurtured and enhanced which culminated in my conversion and Bat Mitzvah.
I grew up in Elizabeth, a member of the baby boomer generation. My father was born in Latvia but emigrated to the US as a baby. My mother was 2nd generation American and very proud of her American heritage.
Assimilation was the family philosophy. We lived in a religiously mixed neighborhood, not practicing any form of Jewish life.
We eventually joined a reform synagogue so that my younger brother could have a Bar Mitzvah. I attended Sunday School but was not offered a Bat Mitzvah, although I’m sure I would have turned it down given the choice. After my brother had his Bar Mitzvah, which culminated in a very large black tie party at the Short Hills Caterers, my parents dropped our synagogue membership and so ended whatever small connection we had to our Jewish roots.
I have always felt that something was missing from my life and vowed to offer my own children a more Jewish life. We joined a conservative synagogue, sent them to Hebrew School, practiced home rituals, celebrated holidays and made Judaism an integral part of our lives.
Now I am in my 60’s, retired and able to fulfill the “missing” part of my life. I’m not sure a Bat Mitzvah is the actual link, but my years as a member of Ahavas Sholom have offered me the sense of peace and spirituality I craved. The building has become a second home and the congregants a second family. The timing is perfect for a celebration of the love and pride I have for my own family, my temple family and my Judaism.
Today I am celebrating all that I have learned and have been blessed with here at Ahavas Sholom.
In the Musaf Amidah one line of the prayer is interpreted as asking God for the gates of learning to be open to me along with peace, harmony, love and companionship. This prayer continues to be answered.
I have begun to unravel, what was to me, the mystery of the Shabbat Service and discovered I enjoy being part of it.
The blessings of love and companionship of this congregation have seen me through a rough time in my life and continue to uplift and inspire me. This occasion is made complete with my family here celebrating with me.
Rabbi Simon Rosenbach, their teacher and the spiritual leader of Ahavas Sholom
A bar or bat mitzvah is a rite of passage for a 13-year-old boy or girl. It means that the boy or girl has mastered certain skills and that they have accepted the responsibilities of adult Judaism, but too often they do not know the greater context. Too often the bar mitzvah boy or the bat mitzvah girl treats the bar or bat mitzvah as a final exam: he or she passed the course, and they need not take other courses relevant to the same subject again.
But the subject is Judaism. You are never finished studying Judaism. You can never learn enough. When these eight women and men, who had never had a bat or bar mitzvah, decided to have one as an adult, they did not view it as a performance to please their parents, never to be repeated again. They viewed it as a chance to learn the service better, as a chance to acquire specific skills that they could employ again, as a chance to know the subject of Judaism better, and in that way get closer to God.
I know that these eight women and men will approach the Shabbat service differently than they approached it before. I know that they will approach Shabbat differently than they approached it before. I know that they will approach the entirety of Judaism differently than they approached it before. And I know that they will approach God differently than they approached God before.
In the two hours when we met on Sunday morning I saw the new approach in their questions. I saw it in their commitment and the mastery of the liturgy, and I saw it in their faces. It was my pleasure and privilege to have taught eight really receptive people, eight committed people, and eight people who are dedicated to carrying on Jewish traditions. Thank you for letting me be a part of your simchah.
Eric Freedman, the President of Ahavas Sholom
When Joan Podnos first approached me several years ago for the first time about having an adult bar and bat mitzvah day, I was taken by her sincerity and my sense of how much it actually meant to her. And while I said I was all for it and shared with her our communal experience of having a 2nd Bar and Bat mitzvah day back in 1999 for eight 83 year olds, it took us awhile to formalize our plans.
To her credit, she stayed with the idea.
March 16th proved to be, undoubtedly, a most memorable and meaningful day in the annals of Ahavas Sholom, because of Joan’s passion and desire to have the chance she never did as a girl. She brought the youthful exuberance to the entire process which made this all possible for her and her other cohorts. While obviously it was especially important and meaningful to her, it was never meant to be just her day alone – which of course speaks volumes about Joan!
While the 1999 event was also moving and meaningful in its own right, it was much more symbolic in what it represented. What stands out for me about this version is the genuine commitment to learning that has driven the preparation over the last six months. With the Rabbi’s tutelage and guidance and Dubra Shenker’s willingness to share her vast knowledge, the process has really opened up new vistas of Jewish learning for the participants.
These eight b’nei mitzvah were not content to simply be called to the bima and participate in a group Aliyah. They all prepared to take on something from the service which they had never done – nor ever imagined ever doing. As we all know from our own experiences, this is very daunting and takes a great deal of courage. So, in closing, I salute Joan and all the participants for elevating their own Jewish learning and skill sets. In the process, you together have elevated the entire Ahavas Sholom community.
YASHER KOACH to ALL!! And thank you for the “Historic Moment.” If you would like to participate in a similar program or learn other Jewish skills and have you own “Historic Moment,” please call Jeff Haveson at 973-207-3095.