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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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