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.

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.

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.

originally posted on 08/02/2012 by Leah Caras on yaldah.com
Tell us what becoming a Bat Mitzvah means to you, and  you could win a beautiful sterling silver key necklace!

We’re looking for an essay 400-700 words from a girl who has either already celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, or is looking forward to celebrating it in the future. The essay should be either a reflection of the importance of becoming a Bat Mitzvah and how it has affected your life, or what you are looking forward to about becoming a Bat Mitzvah and what you expect to learn and gain from the experience.

Eligibility: Author must be a Jewish girl age 8-15
Essay Guidelines: 

1. Essay should be written in the first person.

2. It should be between 400-700 words.

3. It should focus on the significance of becoming a Jewish woman, not the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah party.

To Enter: Submit your essay using the form below or email to submit@yaldah.com. When you email a submission, make sure to include the entrant’s full name, date of birth, state, and  e-mail address. Entries must be received by August 31, 2012.

Judging: Essays will be judged as follows: 40% content, 30% relevance to topic, 20% creativity, 10% spelling & grammar.

Prize: The grand prize winner will win a sterling silver “key” necklace (pictured above) from The Sterling Society.  The pendant is 1.45 inches and comes with a choice of a 16” or 18” Italian chain. The winning essay will also be published in YALDAH magazine. A number of “runner-up” essays will be published in the Bat Mitzvah section of www.yaldah.com.

Prize is sponsored by The Sterling Society. To receive 10% off your purchase at TheSterlingSociety.com use the promo code YALDAH10.
Exclusive Interview from Lev LaLev “Inside Our Home” editor, Chava Yelloz

No matter how neat and organized a household is and regardless of a child’s perfect parental model, let’s face it, kids do mess up. Sheina Goldman, a 10 ½ year old bubbly young lady, who just completed 5th grade admits, with a healthy chuckle, that her room was messy, well, cluttered, for sure - but would not confess that it was chaotic.

It’s not that Sheina did not straighten up her room once in a while, she says, in all honesty, “I tried to do my best.” What was her best method of cleanup, Lev LaLev inquired? “Well I sort of threw everything in the closet, but then eventually, I had to take everything out and organize it.” Sheina adds that she was able to locate her things when it was a mess – since it was her personal mess. But, then her day of reckoning finally came. Her parents made her do a bit of research online to find out the value of all the articles she had strewn about on her room’s floor and desk.

Sheina’s room – after photo
Sheina, who’s going on 11, just completed the fifth grade at the Bay Laurel School in Calabasas, a suburb of Los Angeles. This fall she will begin 6th grade at the A.C. Stelle Middle School. She is the younger sister of 14-year-old Mara, who’s room can also get messy – but who’s comparing?

So, what was in such disarray on Sheina’s floor, desk, chair and any other available surface in her bedroom?

Sheina was given an assignment by her parents ~ make a list, and research the value of all the stuff scattered about.

Sheina explained that she collected items from her floor like 2 pairs of designer brand jeans, one of which was a pair of 7 For All Mankind – costing about $160 on sale. Her floor also decorated with pajamas, shoes and more items that she does not wish to elaborate on. And then there was the disorder all over her desk – pens, erasers, papers, clips – “anything you can think of…” Sheina sighs.

The next step of Sheina’s homework was to calculate the full worth of everything she had sprinkled around her room. Please see the letter she wrote to Lev LaLev displayed here.

Read Sheina’s e-mail to Lev LaLev- Click HERE  

Sheina’s three-pronged assignment was now coming full circle. All she needed to do was find a worthy charity and to donate a percentage of her allowance. This was not a punishment at all, it was just a lesson in awareness. Giving tzedakah was a show of gratitude, Sheina tells us, for all that she has. She continued by saying, “I wanted to donate money to Jewish girls who would really appreciate having things like I do.”

Matthew Rosenbluth, a member of the board of the Rosenbluth Family Foundation, who married Sheina’s mother, Dr. Sophie Shirin just two weeks ago, is already a proud Lev LaLev supporter, who recommended the Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home as a good candidate for Sheina’s charitable endeavor.

Our featured young philanthropist will spend 3 weeks in day camp this summer where she will enjoy summer activities, especially socializing.  Sheina says, “I have fun spending time just talking with my friends.”

More About Sheina:

She takes weekly piano and guitar lessons from the same teacher. She tells LLL that she receives instruction on each instrument for 20 minutes and that she practices daily. She loves to play popular music. She has been playing the piano for the past 5 years and is studying guitar for 2 years.

She favors language arts and likes composition writing on assigned topics.

Her favorite color: “sort of a bright green.”

Lev La Lev applauds Sheina Goldman and her extended family for directing Sheina to help the precious girls at the Rubin-Zeffren Home.

To learn how YOU can help girls at the Home, click here