This past weekend, after two years of study, I became a bat mitzvah, along with my husband, Stephen, who became a bar mitzvah. After he converted to Judaism a year ago, he felt it was the logical “next step,” and prompted me to do the same. In my teens, I opted for a Sweet Sixteen rather than a bat mitzvah.
In the days leading up to the big event, my Museum colleagues frequently began to ask, “Are you ready? Nervous? Excited?” Depending on the moment my answer was either, “All of those things,” “Not sure,” “How do kids do this?” or “What was I thinking?”Because I spend so much time working at my desk, I don’t visit our galleries as much as I would like. However, last week I did, and with the bat mitzvah on my mind, I had the unexpected experience of reconnecting with the first floor, Jewish Life a Century Ago, from a new perspective.
In preparation for the bat mitzvah, the clergy asked for the Hebrew names of my parents and me – something I rarely think about – which would be used in a blessing and handout for the ceremony. The Core Exhibition opens with a “Names” gallery, a place where we often ask school children, “What’s in a name?” Now I was asking myself that same question, thinking about the importance of how my name, and in particular, my Hebrew name, is such a meaningful symbol of my family’s legacy.Then there are displays representing life cycle events and the people connected to them. I thought about my upcoming life cycle event, and how it would produce my own “artifacts” and a story to tell about them. The Core Exhibition’s film in which individuals talk about the meaning of Shabbat from a personal and communal point of view too had greater resonance for me. Coincidentally, my D’var Torah (essay and speech) was about the Sabbath and its role in preserving Jewish identity.
The Core Exhibition also illustrates tzedakah (charity/justice) in Jewish life. In honor of my bat mitzvah, several friends made donations to charitable organizations. Many people donate to the Museum to honor the simchas of friends and family, which is always a mitzvah, yet I felt particularly proud that I was a direct catalyst in the Jewish tradition of charitable giving.I have always felt that the Museum’s stories contain pieces of my own story. Now they mean so much more. With the bat mitzvah behind me, I expect that in the coming days my colleagues will stop to ask, “How was it?” I will answer assuredly, “It was wonderful, emotional, moving, and uplifting” – as it turns out, the same response we hear from visitors all the time when asked about their Museum experiences.
Photo of Sharon and Stephen at the lunch following the ceremony.