If you enjoyed reading my article: A Brief History behind the Unique Aspects of the Bat Mitzvah Ceremony you may be interested in this NEW traveling exhibition, Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age, presented by the National Museum of American Jewish History and Moving Traditions. The exhibition marks the 90th anniversary of the first American bat mitzvah.  

Featuring the remarkable story of how, in less than a century, communal values and practices radically changed to institute this now widely-performed Jewish ritual, Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age runs from March 6-April 27, 2012 at the JCC in Manhattan and will then travel on to communities throughout North America.

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The exhibition includes narratives and artifacts from everyday trendsetters to prominent women, such as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

There will also be a series of events at the exhibit including a presentation by actress Mayim Bialik and a panel discussion on coming of age in America, featuring leading scholars on Jewish ritual and rites of passage.

The Museum will host a “Collect-o-Rama,” on select Sundays in which visitors can share their own Bat Mitzvah stories through personal artifacts or photographs, with the opportunity of becoming part of the Museum’s collection.


I’m thinking of going, would anyone like to join me?

For information, or to submit your Bat Mitzvah story, visit http://batmitzvahcomesofage.com/

Sheena Levi
Director of Outreach
Lev LaLev Fund

sheena@levlalev.com

 
As we approach the joyous holiday of Purim, celebrated this year from the evening of March 7th-8th, I have been reflecting on the holiday as my first year celebrating it with Lev LaLev. And I noticed something about the holiday story that before seemed like just a small footnote to me.



The story of Esther, which we read on Purim, takes place in Persia at a time when many Jews were living in exile within the Persian Empire, which at the time covered much of the Middle East, from India to Egypt to the borders of Greece.

It is taught that when Esther was still young, both her father and mother passed away. Her older relative Mordechai adopted her into his family and raised her as his own. They shared a deep and trusting relationship. Mordechai continued to advise Esther even after she was crowned Persia’s Queen, including the advice to conceal her true Jewish heritage in the Palace.

The Hebrew word ”astir” means “concealment” and is spelled almost exactly the same as Esther’s name. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, which translates to ‘Myrtle’. Myrtle plants release their fragrance when they are crushed. Esther’s true strength came out while she and the Jewish people were in the direst of situations.

When Mordechai brings the Prime Minister Haman’s evil plot to eradicate all the Jewish people living in the Empire to Esther’s attention, she tells him is that if she goes to see the King without being asked of, he could have her killed.

So Esther puts her faith in G-d and asks Mordechai to have the Jews of Persia fast and pray for her for three days (to commemorate this fast, we refrain from food and drink until sundown on March 7th this year); then she will go to the king. ‘And if I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:16).

The Tikunei Zohar, explaining that Yom Ha KiPURIM, Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement, literally means “a day like Purim”, and point out striking parallels between Esther’s approach to the King Achashverus and the High Priest’s service in the Temple on Yom Kippur: the fasting Queen Esther, dressed in special garments, entered the King’s inner chamber at the risk of her life in order to bring salvation to the Jewish people and the fasting High Priest, dressed in special white vestments, entered the normally off-limits inner sanctum of the Temple also at the risk of his life to pray for the people’s forgiveness (Tikun 21).

We learn from Esther a complete trust in G-d, courage, and wisdom. Esther risked her life but trusted G-d’s will. And she merited that through her G-d saved her people from destruction.

This year, I also now think of Esther as a disadvantaged orphan girl who never knew her parents. I see her face in the young women of The Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home whom we help on a daily basis. I feel connected to Mordechai who took her in and cared for her like one of his own, guiding her to adulthood and beyond. I imagine that Esther must have felt so alone when she was forced to go to the palace and marry the King. It has helped me feel even more for our girls and the strength they must find within themselves to stay strong and committed, to grow past the trauma of their youths, to find faith in themselves, others and G-d.

I believe so strongly that, just like Esther, our girls have so much potential and with the combination of their strength and resolve, along with all of our support and love, they too will save future generations of the Israeli and Jewish people.

G-d had a plan for Esther from the beginning. I now know from Esther that G-d has a plan for all of our lives, no matter how dark and desperate things seem. Even after the story we could ask, what became of Esther? Our sages relate that she had a son by Achashverosh. This son, Daryavesh, (Darius), would eventually order for the building of the Holy Temple to be completed, as we read in Ezra 4:24: “Then the work of the House of G-d which is in Jerusalem ceased. So it ceased until the second year of the reign of Daryavesh King of Persia.”

Behold the power of helping one Orphan girl reach her fullest potential! I am so happy to be able to celebrate Purim this year with this new perspective and hope that now you are too! Chag Purim Sameach! 

Sheena Levi

Lev LaLev Director of Outreach