It was something we had talked about idly for years: Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a bat mitzvah together?
The “we” in this case was Cape Ann friends who had grown up at a time when there were all kinds of things boys did that girls didn’t, and that was just the way it was. I don’t recall anyone in my world having a bat mitzvah.
My parents were not synagogue-goers, but were totally Jewish-identified, so my sister and I were sent to a storefront after-school Yiddish program run by a scary white-bearded guy whom we made fun of as we walked home, and that was just the way it was.
As young adults, my friends and I blew apart the expectations around gender. But we were focused on equalizing careers, marriage, housework, and parenting. Redressing childhood religious slights never entered my mind, although later on, by the time my kids started Hebrew school, there was no question: the boys and girls would be treated the same. At least those tectonic plates had shifted.
Fast-forward a few decades. Oddly, I am no longer a girl in the Bronx, or a young mother in Cambridge. I seem to be a white-haired grandmother living in Gloucester, ex-president of an endearing little synagogue. My eldest granddaughter has a date for her own bat mitzvah. The time had come to put our group plan into action.
The friends I expected to join me opted out, but others opted in. I signed up for the beginning Hebrew reading group, determined once and for all to stop bluffing. (Yes; Hebrew is different from Yiddish.) And luckily, a piece of this is just that old feeling of girls having fun together.
I am really enjoying the linguistic part (I wrote a book about the history of Yiddish called “Yiddish: A Nation of Words”). Once I felt comfortable with the way that Hebrew consonants exert a magnetic pull to attract vowels, and roots attract prefixes and suffixes, I became enamored of this alternate way to construct a language.
When I announced the event to my family, my now middle-aged children screamed “Party!” and “Klezmer band!” A dozen or two guests quickly became 50; everyone wants to share in a happy event.
It isn’t often that you get to change your past. Although I have not spent my life regretting what I never even knew was a possibility, I am happy to grab it now.