In 1974, I was 12 years old, a student at an Orthodox Day School in New Jersey, and the oldest of four daughters in my Conservative-affiliated family. Like my mother and her father, my grandfather, I was both a committed Jew and a feminist.
The attached letters tell the story of my request to the Temple Shomrei Emunah ritual committee for the first Saturday morning bat mitzvah in the congregation – and the results.
My mother’s letter, which I love for its depth of feeling, clarity of argument, and its signature, lays out our family’s particular story, as well as the larger cultural context.
My letter is the product of my 12-year-old self: I chose not to translate Hillel’s quote “If not now, when?” reasoning, “if they are on the ritual committee, they should know Hebrew.”
The letter from my grandfather, Irving Rachlin z”l (1894-1991) testifies to the event itself and to his legacy of commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.
Credit must also go to Rabbi Schnitzer z”l, who pushed this change in our congregation.
I chose these letters for the Jewish Women’s Archive exhibit for two reasons. First, they tell the story of a particular time in history and provide a glimpse into a family and a denominational movement. Second, this event had profound personal significance, teaching me that I could influence Judaism and make a difference among the Jewish people.
Sally Gottesman’s bat mitzvah experience influenced almost all areas of her adult life – it made her believe that change was possible in the Jewish community, and today she is a management consultant to not-for-profit organizations, working primarily in the Jewish community with organizations such as American Jewish World Service, Tzedek Hillel, and The Hebrew Free Loan Society. It also influenced her life as a donor-activist, and Gottesman primarily, but not exclusively, gives her money and time to organizations working at the intersection of gender and Judaism. A long-time member of the Jewish Women’s Archive Board of Directors, she now serves as the Founding Chair of Moving Traditions: The Jewish Gender and Lifecycle Initiative. She is also currently on the Boards of StorahTelling, American Jewish World Service, and American Friends of Yedid. A former staff-person of the Israel Women’s Network and New Israel Fund, Gottesman writes regularly about philanthropy and progressive Jewish issues. Sally received her B.A. from Wellesley College and her Masters in Public and Private Management from Yale University.
More on Sally Gottesman
- Encyclopedia Article: Sally Gottesman
- Lesson Plan: Taking Risks, Making Change: Bat Mitzvah and Other Evolving Traditions
- Encyclopedia Article: Bat Mitzvah: American Jewish Women
- Encyclopedia Article: Kolot: Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies
- Encyclopedia Article: Advancing Women Professionals in the Jewish Community