They are the “Study Sisters”—on a quest to nourish their curiosity with a deep understanding of Jewish liturgy, Torah, and sacred traditions. Five women, all traveling along diverse paths, with the shared dream to become b’not mitzvah. One Jew by choice, and four Jewish women who missed out on the opportunity to read from the Torah, came together at Congregation B’nai Torah in Sudbury to make the journey together.
“When adults come together of their own volition, making a choice to become b’not mitzvah, not just because they’ve reached a certain age, but because it’s a personal goal, it’s powerful,” exclaims B’nai Torah’s Cantorial Soloist Jodi Blankstein, who met with the group weekly over the past 18 months.
The group includes a woman in the process of conversion, whose daughter will become a bat mitzvah next winter, former educators and administrators, a fitness instructor/trainer, and an executive director. And each brings her own special qualities to the group. A calming presence, an impassioned questioner, and one with deep knowledge—who studies Torah with B’nai Torah’s Rabbi Dr. Lisa Eiduson weekly—and wanted to continue her learning. They each contribute a unique perspective to the group.
Meeting weekly, students practiced chanting blessings, studied individual prayers, and learned to read trope patterns—the markings in the Torah that indicate how words are chanted. Each student’s binder contained the entire service in Hebrew as well as transliterations. Teasing out Hebrew roots allowed students to understand the meaning behind prayers and gain a deeper understanding of the words chanted together on Shabbat.
Rabbi Eiduson met with the women as they prepared their divrei Torah, guiding them and offering insight into their shared Torah portion. Each “Sister” then wrote a sequential portion to create a beautifully flowing d’var.
“There is no greater privilege than working with adult learners and introducing them to serious Jewish study. The women who are becoming b’not mitzvah have worked diligently not only to learn Hebrew and prepare the many different sections of the service, but they have also embraced the broader message of this lifecycle occasion—something that our 13-year-olds simply do not have the developmental capacity to achieve,” comments Eiduson. “That is, they are committing to becoming lifelong Jewish learners, to joyously practice Judaism and Jewish rituals inside and outside the synagogue, and to make the world a better place through social justice and deeds of lovingkindness.”
“One of the most meaningful movements in my cantorial career took place in May when the women rehearsed together for their b’not mitzvah, each chanting from the Torah scroll for the first time,” shares Blankstein. “It was the first time we had been physically together since the COVID lockdown began. As one Study Sister took her place on the bimah and began chanting from the Torah, she was overcome by the emotion of achieving this extraordinary personal goal. It was an incredibly powerful moment in time for all of us.”
“As a longtime educator, it was extremely gratifying and meaningful to be part of each of these women’s journeys,” Blankstein adds. “Preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah is all about the process. The magic is in how one evolves. The Study Sisters brought honor and grace to the sanctuary as they became daughters of the commandments. That’s a holy, altruistic act. Throughout the long days of COVID, coming together as a group on the screen was a haven for all of us. During the journey, the women started to think of themselves as family. They have such mutual respect and admiration for each other. They supported each other and cheered each other on. It was joyful to be part of and truly compelling to watch each woman bloom.”
This month, the Study Sisters will travel to a mikvah, as one of them formally converts to Judaism, embracing her in their love—like the hugs they were able to finally, safely, give each other after their first rehearsal—on their way to become b’not mitzvah.
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