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The Holiday of Shavuot, celebrated this year from May 14-16, is such a perfect one for us Bat Mitzvah girls. Just as we celebrate accepting our responsibilities as Jews, our ancestors at Mt. Sinai joyfully took upon themselves the same commandments with the statement, “Naasah V’Nishama! - We shall do and we shall hear!” 

In fact, the two occasions are so connected that the first Bat Mitzvah ceremonies ever were said to have been held on Shavuot. Isaac Pardo was the Rabbi of Verona, Italy in the 19th century, and the earliest bat mitzvah was attributed to his synagogue there.

In Pardo’s synagogue, the Bat Mitzvah was a communal ceremony, held for all the girls who turned 12 during the course of the following year. According to Aliza Lavie, author of the new book: Women's Customs: A Journey of Jewish Customs, Rituals, Prayers and Stories, “The girls wore white and entered the men's section of the synagogue during the procession; accompanied by a choir ... The rabbi blessed them.” The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) was also sung to teach the girls about the strong female Jewish role-model, the only woman judge and prophetess, Devorah.


PictureSheena at her 1997 bat mitzvah
And the Bat Mitzvah custom spread from there. Indeed, in my own 1997 Bat Mitzvah speech about Shavuot I connected to accepting the Torah because just as each year on Shavuot Jews are taught to re-accept the Torah upon themselves, our Bat Mitzvah date is our own personal Shavuot. 

May we continue to go beyond bat mitzvah each year...even 16 years later.

Sheena Levi
Director of Outreach
sheena@levlalev.com


 
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American mitzvah girls at the Feb. 2013 gala
VERY exciting news mitzvah ladies! Thanks to a suggestion from Baila’s mom (see this month’s mitzvah profile) we are adding a new raffle contest to our mitzvah project program.

Starting from this month, for each $100 a bat mitzvah girl raises, her name will be added to our annual ‘Fly to the Gala’ drawing. The winning name receives 1 free ticket to fly to Israel to attend the next upcoming gala bat mitzvah for the ladies from the Children’s Home in Netanya!

The drawing will be held once a year on December 1st for the gala that following February. Girls celebrating their bat mitzvah from May-November 2013 are eligible for the 2014 gala raffle.

Next year’s raffle, for the 2015 gala, will be for girls celebrating their bat mitzvah from December 2013-November 2014.



Other ways to earn raffle tickets:
1.    1 for each friend you refer (they mention your name to us) who does her own mitzvah project for Lev LaLev.
2.    1 for featuring your simcha in our e-newsletter and blog (pictures and article).
3.    1 for each presentation about your mitzvah project you make to your school, federation, synagogue, JCC, JR NCSY chapter, or other local club.
4.    1 for every 10 cards you sell (Rosh Hashana and/or Purim).

Good luck ladies! Just remember, everyone is invited to the gala, and no matter what happens, you are all doing the winning mitzvah of supporting orphaned girls in Israel!

 
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Name: Baila Weisberger
Town: Passaic, NJ
Bat Mitzvah Date: September 2012
Mitzvah Project: Making jewelry and ani ma’amin cards for the girls at the Children’s Home in Netanya.

Tell us a little about yourself: I go to Yeshiva Bais Hillel. I have 2 siblings, my brother is 11 and my sister is 8. My all time favorite things to do are dance, sing, and act; reading and art. Don’t mean to brag, but I’m very creative so I’m really good at all of them.

How did you decide to take on this particular project for Lev LaLev? We were searching the internet and found the Lev LaLev website. It really inspired me and I decided to do a project.

What was the most meaningful part of doing this Mitzvah Project for your Bat Mitzvah? Knowing that I’ll make a girls day by letting them know I care, and having them wear the jewelry that we made and at least know that we’re thinking of them.

What are your plans for the future, i.e. life after Bat Mitzvah? For now, to get into a good high school.

Please share your advice for a girl looking into doing a Mitzvah Project for her Bat Mitzvah. Do your research to find a meaningful organization and cause, plan something fun and that the recipients will love, like with Lev LaLev! 

 
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It’s not every day that parents with two small children who are touring Israel on a family vacation take the time out to visit a Children’s Home all the way in Netanya. But, this young family is quite unique.

Friends of the Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home and the Lev LaLev Fund for five years now, Avi and Sara Pultman of Riverdale, New York already visited our girls twice in the past few years – not an easy feat with little ones in tow. Their daughter Jenna is five and Allison is a two year old.

Always interested in their donors’ motivation, LLL, asked Mr. Pultman about his devoted involvement with the Home. He told us that he wanted to instill in his daughters, beginning from their early childhood,  not to take what they have for granted. He believes that through introducing his children to acts of charity and kindness to the less fortunate, they would eventually internalize these lofty principles and adhere to them throughout their lifetime.

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When the Pultman family recently visited the Home, like caring guests, they did not arrive empty handed. They came bearing gifts for our girls – Lego block sets and other fun and educational toys. After they left, the Home’s Program Director, Bracha Runes, distributed the goodies to the girls, who received them with great joy.

More about the Pultmans:

Jenna is a kindergartner at a local Riverdale Hebrew day school. Allison is still at home with her mom. The family is a member of the Riverdale Jewish Center. Avi and Sara Pultman are married for eight years.

A great quote from Avi Pultman:

“Walking the halls of the Home and meeting some of the girls, the positive impact that Lev La Lev has on these children and young women is profoundly obvious. My wife and I are truly grateful that we are able to be a part of such a special organization.”

Thanks to friends like the Pultmans, the girls at the Home are truly blessed.

-Chava Yelloz

Lev LaLev ‘Inside our Home’ e-newsletter editor

 
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Sarina (middle) at the Gala
Sheena,

It was so nice meeting you in person on such a happy and emotional day!

I want to thank you and Bracha for giving us such a beautiful opportunity to celebrate the girls Bat Mitzva. It was so emotional for me and for Sarina to be there. We felt so connected to the girls. Sarina felt like they were all her sisters and I felt like they were all my daughters. Watching the video [made by the girls at the Home] for both times at the beginning and the end brought tears to my eyes. 


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Sarina (far left) standing with all the other Bat Mitzvah ladies
Driving back from Bat Mitzva we couldn't stop talking about how well everything was organized and planned from the hall, tables arrangements, girls dresses and hairstyles. I can't describe our joy for those girls. From the moment when we first found out about the girls we felt connected to them, but celebrating  their Bat Mitzva together brought us even closer to the girls.

Thank you again for giving us such a great opportunity of being part of girl's lives. 

Lana Hilowitz


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Sheena with Lana and her daughters (left) at the Gala. Bracha, Director of the Home, stands far right.
 
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Name: Naomie Ryba 
Town: Teaneck, NJ
Bat Mitzvah Date: December 16, 2012
Mitzvah Project: Making bracelets for the girls at the Children’s Home in Netanya.

Tell us a little about yourself: I am very much into fashion! I have 4 siblings, but I am the oldest. I also love ice skating, basketball, and reading.

How did you decide to take on this particular project for Lev LaLev? I went on the internet with my mom and we found Lev LaLev using google!

What was the most meaningful part of doing this Mitzvah Project for your Bat Mitzvah? It was when I saw how much money my family and friends gave to help the girls in Israel!

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Please share any details or fond memories of your Mitzvah Project and Bat Mitzvah. Everybody enjoyed making the bracelets. It was so much fun! 

What are your plans for the future, i.e. life after Bat Mitzvah? To become a true bat mitzvah!

Please share your advice for a girl looking into doing a Mitzvah Project for her Bat Mitzvah. Lev LaLev is amazing, and it is so meaningful to have shared my bat mitzvah with these girls from Israel!


 
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Will you be in Israel this Passover?  Do you know someone who will? Looking for an amazing Chol Ha’Moed activity for the whole family?

Get some great scenic exercise, and help disadvantaged young women at the same time!

We hope you will take advantage of an amazing new opportunity to raise funds for Lev LaLev – while touring Israel and having the time of your life with your friends and family.

Our partner Cycle for Unity (www.cycleforunity.org) has organized two amazing Chol HaMoed cycling adventures:

Cycling Adventure #1: Blaze the Burma Road – Thursday, March 28

Cycling Adventure #2: No Place Like Northern Israel – Sunday, March 31

What makes this family activity different from all other family activities? Riders can raise funds for Lev LaLev with every kilometer they ride! 

Space is limited and reservations must be made in advance, so be sure to register today: http://cycleforunity.org/apply/


 
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You may be surprised to find that "becoming bar/bat mitzvah" happens automatically when a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13 and a girl, age 12. The ceremony that today occupies center stage is actually a historical afterthought, with evidence of observance starting only from sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries.

Unlike boys, there isn't as long a history of coming-of-age rituals for girls* and young women are not bound by age-old traditions like young Jewish men. An early bat mitzvah usually followed the same format as a bar mitzvah, however, because women are not traditionally required to perform many of the more public mitzvot (commandments), an authoritarian ceremony made little sense. Therefore, as observant women have become more Judaically educated, they are eager to create meaningful rituals unique to a bat mitzvah.

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celebrating with a women only theatre perfomance
Since the bat mitzvah is still a relatively new idea that continues to evolve, the modern bat mitzvah varies depending on your congregation. Still, young Jewish women have more freedom to express themselves at a bat mitzvah. Without a binding centuries-old tradition to follow, you can be innovative and creative in shaping the ceremony and celebration.

Some girls choose to observe the occasion by giving talks either on the Torah portion or some personally meaningful aspect of their involvement in Judaism. Another influence on the development of a bat mitzvah within Orthodoxy is the women's prayer group.

Since some Jewish sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all the mitzvot, equal to them all combined, more and more bat mitzvah girls worldwide are now choosing to celebrate with a tzedakah project; something to benefit those less fortunate. Carrying on the tradition of chesed, loving-kindness displayed by the Jewish foremothers, who shaped the course of Jewish history; this new tradition has even had an impact on the modern bar mitzvah ceremony!

Your bat mitzvah experience is even more special when you enrich the lives of others! Jewish tradition teaches that we deepen our happiness when we share our joyous celebrations with people in need. This is especially important as you prepare for a bat mitzvah, when you become an adult and accept responsibility for fulfilling the important mitzvah of tzedakah.

There are so many options to select or create a project that matches your own personal skills and interests. One may elect to give a portion of gift money to a charity which reflects these interests. Another wonderful way to share the joy of your bat mitzvah is to donate the flowers, centerpieces, extra baked goods and food to a hospital, homeless and/or children's shelter, senior home, or other recipient. They will be delighted, and you will truly be performing a mitzvah.

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American bat mitzvah girls celebrate in Israel
Put the mitzvah in bat mitzvah…Lev LaLev joins hands with bat mitzvah girls, Just Like YOU! The Torah commands us to care for the orphan and to never forget our Holy Land…join hands with bat mitzvah girls from around the globe in planning your very own Mitzvah Project to support orphaned girls in Israel!

Together we can help you brainstorm ideas to start your journey as a Jewish adult with a meaningful contribution that fits your personality and favorite hobbies. Contact Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com or call 1-800-630-1106. Learn more about what we do: www.levlalev.com/batmitzvah

* By the 14th century, sources mention a boy being called up to the Torah for the first time on the Sabbath coinciding with or following his 13th birthday. By the 17th century, boys were also reading Torah and delivering talks, often on talmudic learning, at an afternoon seudat mitzvah (ritual meal). Today the speech, usually a commentary on the weekly Torah portion, generally takes place during the morning service.

Historians discovered evidence that families began honoring their daughters with a special meal for their 12th birthday in countries such as France, Italy, and Germany only about 200 years ago. Since girls physically mature at an earlier age than boys, twelve, not thirteen, was the age chosen for a Jewish girl's passage into adulthood. However, it wasn't until 1922 that the first bat mitzvah in North America was celebrated, but most Jewish girls did not have an opportunity to become a bat mitzvah in a synagogue ceremony until the 1950s, or later.

 
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Bat Mitzvah girl performing the mitzvah of hafrashat challah
The True Meaning 
Bat Mitzvah literally means "daughter of commandment." The word "bat" means "daughter." The word "mitzvah" is Hebrew for "commandment."

Traditionally, the term "bat mitzvah" refers to when a Jewish girl reaches the age of 12. She becomes a "bat mitzvah" and is recognized by Jewish tradition as now being morally and ethically responsible for her decisions and actions.

However, a bat mitzvah is not a full-fledged adult yet, Jewish tradition only recognizes this age as the point when a child can differentiate between right and wrong and hence can be held accountable for her actions. The training wheels are off and the journey into becoming a mature, responsible adult has begun.

She is also now responsible for performing Mitzvot (plural for mitzvah) just like any adult woman. These include, but are not limited to, lighting Shabbat candles, daily prayer, fasting on Yom Kippur, and performing acts of chesed (loving-kindness) and tzedakah (charity). 

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American bat mitzvah girl gifts Tehillim (psalms) to Israeli bat mitzvah girl
The Modern Manifestation
Today, "bat mitzvah" also refers to a religious ceremony that accompanies a girl’s coming of age. Often a celebratory party will follow the ceremony. This popular bar/bat mitzvah custom is not required; in fact, it is a relatively modern innovation. The elaborate ceremonies and receptions that are commonplace today were unheard of as recently as a century ago. Therefore, the specifics of the ceremony and party vary widely, especially in the case of a bat mitzvah.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jewish communities began marking when a girl became a bat mitzvah with a special ceremony almost identical to the bar mitzvah ceremony for boys (tefillin, reading from the Torah, leading services, etc.). However, there is no uniform model unique for the bat mitzvah ceremony yet, so the tradition continues to evolve.

Back to the Roots
The bat mitzvah is a milestone that marks the beginning of a lifetime of Jewish learning, growth, and participation in the Jewish community. 

In recent years, it has become common practice to donate a portion of any monetary gift to a charity of the bat mitzvah girls choosing. Some are now even choosing to devote their entire bat mitzvah theme to doing a “chesed” project, a project to benefit others. Some synagogues and schools are following suit and are now requiring their students of bar and bat mitzvah age to perform acts of kindness-chesed, and tikun olam-healing the world, as part of their ceremony preparations.

The concept of leaving the world a better place, by utilizing your unique talents, is becoming the modern focus for Jewish adults, and a bat mitzvah is the perfect age to start focusing on humanity’s responsibility for one another.

 
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18 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Set your Bat Mitzvah date with a Synagogue
  • Discuss the type of celebration the Bat Mitzvah girl would like to have
  • Determine a budget by identifying, as a family, the top 3 priorities (Venue, Food, Music, Entertainment, Décor, Mitzvah Project, etc.)
  • Estimate the number of Bat Mitzvah guests you expect and book your reception hall and caterer
  • Book your photographer and videographer
12 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Determine your Bat Mitzvah Torah and Haftarah portion
Alternatively, if your Bat Mitzvah falls around a Jewish Holiday you may want to learn about the special customs  and readings of that Holiday, ex: Megillat Esther on Purim
  • Start Bat Mitzvah lessons
If necessary, find a tutor
  • Begin thinking about potential Mitzvah Projects
If you need help brainstorming ideas contact Lev LaLev’s Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com
  • Meet with your Rabbi, Rebbitzin or Cantor to understand the Bat Mitzvah process at your synagogue and answer any questions you may have
  • Begin to work on your guest list
It may be helpful to separate the list into “Must Haves” and “Nice to Haves”
  • Check for Event Planners, if you are using one
  • Pick your Bat Mitzvah theme and color scheme
  • Book the band or DJ
Consider booking alternate entertainment such as magicians, caricaturists, virtual reality games, photo favors, etc. 

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8 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Start learning your Torah portion, Holiday customs and/or what it means to be, and what your responsibilities will be as, a Jewish woman
  • Start coordinating your Mitzvah Project event, fundraiser, craft project, etc.
If you need help contact Lev LaLev’s Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com
  • Decide on Bat Mitzvah table centerpieces
Talk to florists or balloon artists about prices and designs for the synagogue service, the Kiddush table, and for table centerpieces
Consider Lev LaLev’s table cards to showcase your meaningful mitzvah project to your guests: http://www.levlalev.com/TableCardCenterPiece
  • Start looking at Bat Mitzvah invitation designs and prices
6 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • If necessary, book hotel block for out-of-town guests
  • Start shopping for any special Bat mitzvah clothing
    • Consider a Bat Mitzvah synagogue dress and possibly an evening outfit for a formal Bat Mitzvah celebration
    • Mom and dad, brothers and sisters may want new Bat Mitzvah clothing as well
    • Consider sponsoring a new outfit for an Israeli orphan girl’s Bat Mitzvah day too: www.levlalev.com/sponsorbatmitzvah
5 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Order your Bat Mitzvah invitations
  • Order any special imprinted yarmulkes, benchers, etc.
  • Order Bat Mitzvah favors
  • Order or design your Bat Mitzvah sign-in board and guest book
  • Consider integrating your mitzvah project into your décor or asking the organization you chose to send some of their materials to showcase at your Bat Mitzvah
    • You may even wish to request that someone from the organization come and speak at your event
  • Select pictures and music to use in your Bat Mitzvah video

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3 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Finalize your Bat Mitzvah guest list
  • Make a hotel packet for out-of-town guests
  • Make the final selections on Bat Mitzvah clothing and accessories
  • Have a completely assembled invitation weighed to ensure correct postage
    • Buy stamps for mailing Bar mitzvah invitations and for RSVP cards
  • Host your Mitzvah Project fundraiser, event or perform the Tikun Olam volunteer work of your choice
6-8 Weeks before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah
  • Mail your invitations
  • Send your Bat Mitzvah song list to the DJ/band
  • Develop and edit, or order, your special Bat Mitzvah video
  • Make appointments with florist/balloonist and place order  
  • Start developing your Bat Mitzvah speech  
1 Month before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Have final fittings done for Bat Mitzvah clothing 
  • Make hair stylist and manicure appointments 
  • Finalize your speeches and thank you’s and keep practicing them and your portion!  

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2-3 Weeks before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Choose people for aliyot and honors during the service 
  • Do Bat Mitzvah guest seating arrangements and send them to the reception hall 
  • Make sure arrangements are complete with venue, caterer, music, entertainment, décor etc. 
  • Send final instructions to Bat Mitzvah photographer and videographer 
  • Go over the event schedule with your synagogue and/or venue  
  • Order food for the Kiddush  
  • Pay all synagogue fees 
1 Week before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Take formal Bat Mitzvah family pictures
  • Meet with Bat Mitzvah caterer for final guest count
  • Make arrangements to get your guests from the airport to the hotel
The Bat Mitzvah Day
  • Relax, have fun and enjoy your accomplishments!
1 Month after the Bat Mitzvah
  • Complete your thank you cards 
  • Join Lev LaLev’s Beyond Bat Mitzvah club and learn how to continue the inspiration from your Bat Mitzvah into your new life as a Jewish Woman! http://www.levlalev.com/BeyondBatMitzvah