For Ida Rose, becoming a bat mitzvah at 98-years-old, is an “unexpected pleasure” that she feels lucky to have had. Recently, Rose was one of five women – ages 87 to 98 – to take part in this rite of passage in a touching ceremony attended by family, friends and fellow residents at Stein Assisted Living at The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, located in Somerset, NJ.
Rose, who became a bat mitzvah for the first time at the ceremony, was born in 1921 in the Bronx, NY. A child of Orthodox Jewish parents, Yiddish was the primary language spoken in her household and she was well versed in Jewish religious practices – eventually sending her own children to Hebrew school. However, a bat mitzvah ceremony was never something she thought she would have.
Traditionally, only boys had a bar mitzvah. Ceremonies for women did not become common until the early 1960s – meaning that many Jewish seniors today have never had the experience. Although the ceremony is traditionally held at the age of 12 or 13, this milestone can take place at any age.
Rose, in addition to Renee Waller (87), Esther Samuels (89), Sophie Melman (95), Sali Frank (96), all had their own reasons for embarking on this journey.
Samuels, a Brooklynite born in 1930, grew up with a Hebrew education. During her adulthood, she lived in Israel for two years where she picked up a second dialect of the language. She cites her desires to revisit the Hebrew language and gain a stronger sense of community as her reasons for becoming a bat Mitzvah for a second time.
Waller stated that coming to live at Stein Assisted Living brought back early Jewish memories with her family’s traditions – so she embraced the opportunity to study Hebrew once again. Frank and Melman, both taking part for the first time, shared desires to learn more about Jewish history and revisit past family customs.
To prepare for their bat mitzvah ceremonies, the women attended weekly classes, taught by Corey Heinberg and Wilf Campus Chaplain Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner, for over six months. The women studied and familiarized themselves with the Torah and Hebrew language to gain a fuller experience from the Jewish religion.
“You’re never too old to learn new things and to re-engage with the traditions and ceremonies of the Jewish faith,” says Rabbi Kinzbrunner, adding that the women are wonderful examples that “you never stop learning. You never stop growing.”