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My Bat Mitzvah's Bat Mitzvah

Sealfons Department Store Displaying Bathing Suits, Blizzard of '96Jordan's Bat Mitzvah, January 6, 1996 Today is the 13th anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah - my Bat Mitzvah’s Bat Mitzvah. In Ridgewood, New Jersey (where I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah), it was the famous “Blizzard of ’96” which delivered two feet of snow to a town where bathing suits were prematurely displayed in the windows of Sealfons (a department store founded by Samuel I. Sealfon of Ridgewood, New Jersey.

It’s been a while since I attended a Bat Mitzvah or revisited my own, so allow me to reminisce. A few highlights:

1. The chanting of my parsha was a family project. I chanted three aliyot of Parshat Vayechi while my mother, father, aunt, and uncle chanted the others. I remember listening to recordings of aliyot numbers 1 and 2 (my mother’s and my father’s) on a cassette tape in their car. The trope-listening car ride has since become something of a tradition.

2. I opted to wear an Orthodox woman’s black hat on the bimah. Though I had no interest in wearing a kippah while chanting Torah and leading services, I was nonetheless required to cover my head. So, I took a trip with my mother to Monsey, New York to buy a velvety, wide-brimmed black hat. It was a rather baffling experience for the saleswoman to sell a hat designed for a married woman to a tiny, non-Orthodox Bat Mitzvah girl.

3. I gave my dvar Torah on sibling rivalry in Genesis.

4. I completed a service project which involved swimming with mentally and physically challenged children at the YWCA swimming pool.

5. I had a good idea for a Bat Mitzvah-themed project but, sadly, it failed. I wrote letters to representatives of Jewish communities in countries all over the world - Russia, Argentina, France, Canada, India, and more. In my letter, I explained that I was celebrating my Bat Mitzvah and wanted to learn about Jewish life in other countries so that I could share different Jewish traditions with my Bat Mitzvah guests. My plan was for each table at the reception to represent a different Jewish community. I would design posters (i.e. “Jewish Life in Calcutta”) displaying the letters I’d received along with color photographs as each table’s center piece. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t pan out. I received only one response to my letter - it was from a Jewish man in Morocco who asked me to marry him. Shockingly, I did not accept the offer. At 13, I was not yet prepared to get married (though I was clearly well-prepared to take on the responsibilities of Jewish “adulthood”).

6. After spending the evening dancing to many hours of Klezmer music, my family and I soaked our feet in the bathtub at 3am.

For many people, Bat Mitzvahs conjure up images of thumping DJs, reckless give-aways of plastic chochkes made in China, Tiffany necklaces, and teenagers playing “coke and pepsi” in their socks. I am glad these images are not the memories that dominate my Bat Mitzvah experience (though I do recall a plethora of lime and magenta-colored blow-up saxophones scattered around the dance floor). For me, becoming a Bat Mitzvah really was about living a tradition, celebrating my heritage with my family, and having a few intentional moments to feel proud.

So ... what do you remember about your Bat Mitzvah?

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More on: Ritual, Bat Mitzvah
6 Comments

Thank you for catching this mistake, Ms. Sealfon. It has been corrected.

I would like a retraction & correction to be made by Jordan of the article posted on 1/6/2009 in regards to her Bat Mitzvah in whatever means necessary. The store Sealfon's in Ridgewood, New Jersey was NOT founded by the Jewish couple Harry & Sally Sealfon who have a plaque in her Synogogue. It was founded by my late husband, Samuel I. Sealfon of Ridgewood, New Jersey... with the catch phrase being "Certainly It's Sealfon's". In the early 1980's Sam sold the store & moved to Tucson, Arizona because of a health issue. He then moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and opened in Scottsdale Fashion Square another store with very much the same features as the store in Ridgewood. He became a very important part of the community in much the same way as he carved out for himself in Ridgewood...thru hard work & dedication. Sam started an Award program and named it the "TODAY AWARD"..TODAY being an acronym for Telling Others Doings About Youth. This program was implemented by Sam in the Scottsdale High Schools honoring students for Community service work which is still in the school system to this day. It is still being sponsored by one of our local Rotary Clubs, of which he had been a member for years. Sam passed away in May 31,2003 after a long illness. Sincerely, (Ms.)Charlie Sealfon Scottsdale, Arizona

How lovely and inspiring ... a wonderful posting.

I'm totally digging that hat Jordan! :) Thanks for sharing your memories. My bat mitzvah (in 1977) happened just as the Conservative movement allowed girls to have Shabbat morning bat mitzvahs, which included having a real aliyah, and chanting Torah and Haftarah. Of course, I wanted to do everything the boys did, and was one of the first girls to have a "real" ceremony. It was quite controversial, and many synagogue members boycotted (which was quite a statement, as my father was very active in the synagogue). Today I still feel a little moment of happiness and pride when I see women lead services, leyn, etc -- I'm proud to have been present at the moment when it all changed!

Jordan- Too bad you didn't yet know about the Jewish Women's Archive- that could have been a riviting theme for table design- every pocket of your extended family and friends could each sit with their very own Jewish woman hero!

Jordan, What an awesome story (and great pics)! You clearly somehow avoided the awkward braces and tight dress phenomenon that was all the rage at my bat mitzvah circa 1993. In the year leading up to my bat mitvah, I revoked my previous goal to become a rabbi, a change of heart motivated by two realizations: 1. my rabbi was dopey, and 2. only supreme dorks continued their jewish education past their bar/bat mitzvahs. Fortunately, about 10 years later I got back into Judaism via an amazing Reconstructionist congregation in DC. I got to have the good stuff... without rabbinical school. I still wear my bat mitvah tallit. Every time I look at that bag I'm twelve again.

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How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "My Bat Mitzvah's Bat Mitzvah." 6 January 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 22, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/my-bat-mitzvahs-bat-mitzvah>.

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