by Ellie Sugarman (Sarasota, FL)
The many hours, weeks and months that I’ve spent learning Hebrew are almost over.
I will become a bat mitzvah on May 9th, 2009 at Temple Sinai in Sarasota. My family and friends are planning to attend.
It’s been a challenge to learn not only how to read directly from the Torah, with its minuscule print, but having to learn how any mark under or above each letter alters its sound.
The unique markings above or below the letters, or at the side of a consonant, tell you whether to hold or repeat the sound. Certain markings will tell you to sound more than one consonant together. These marks are called the “trope, ” and they help listeners know when a new thought begins and ends.
So, I had to learn not only how to chant the letters which make up each word, but how to stress or elongate the syllables.
All this is not very easy, especially for someone my age!
It’s common for children of thirteen to become a bar or bat mitzvah. But occasionally an older individual who never had a bar or bat mitzvah dreams of a ceremony of his or her own.
For me, becoming a bat mitzvah became a goal after I found myself as a widow after fifty-nine years of a good marriage. It was very unsettling. I needed to feel rooted again.
Perhaps I am unique in this need, but I felt learning about my Jewish heritage would offer me solace and well-being. I felt I was on the right path. I felt sturdier and protected.
It was when some dear friends invited me to welcome the Sabbath over the course of many Friday evenings that I began to have these “feel good” feelings.
Observing the Sabbath each week at their home, and chanting the blessings for the bread and the wine, allowed me to feel the love and warmth of my hosts.
I hadn’t realized what was happening to me.
Returning to the synagogue was helpful, too, and a Sabbath service that I attended about six months ago at Temple Sinai was especially reassuring.
I was asked to recite one of the prayers before the Torah was read, and I was able to do it well.
Walking back to my seat, I had an epiphany. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
It had been a cloudy, dreary day, but for a minute the sanctuary suddenly appeared so very bright and sunny. Everything around me was glowing.
I blinked my eyes, and the natural color of the room returned.
If someone were to tell me that they had experienced this, I would have listened but possibly would have challenged the truthfulness of it happening.
I do not doubt my experience.
My motto has always been, “Yes, I can.”
I don’t know what else I will be able to learn or accomplish in the years ahead. Right now, I’m looking forward to becoming a bat mitzvah.
After that, who knows?
There’s always a trip to the moon!
Ellie Sugarman, a perennial student, will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah on May 9, 2009, to read her Torah portion, Emor. She has volunteered at the Women’s Resource Center for the past seven years and was a docent at the Ringling Museum of Art for more than 15 years.