For most of us, our bat or bar mitzvahs were rites of passage into Jewish adulthood and experiences we will never forget.
The bat and bar mitzvah takes place when we’re 12 or 13 years old and many of us assume that, if we don’t have it then, it’s too late, we’ve missed our chance, the ship has sailed.
But, thanks to Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky and his wife Yocheved of the Rohr Chabad Student Network of Ottawa (CSN), four Ottawa university students have learned that’s not the case.
On Saturday, February 8, CSN held a special bat mitzvah ceremony and event for Ariele Jacobson, Dana Melamed, Dali Carmichael and Kamilla Riabko – four young women who did not have a bat mitzvah ceremony when they were 12.
The event aims to engage students who may not have a strong Jewish connection or affiliation but are looking for one. For the fourth year in a row, CSN has helped guide young men and women – albeit just women this year – along the path that young Jews follow while preparing for their bat or bar mitzvah.
Franny Weigensberg, Carleton University’s CSN president, said this event is so important because, no matter the size of the Jewish community, a bat or bar mitzvah is something every Jewish youth deserves to experience.
“However, due to financial reasons, personal circumstances, growing up with a limited Jewish background, etc., not everyone gets to have one,” said Franny. “So, what we do is hold this event to enable them to celebrate their growth as Jews and show the Jewish community that what they have learned will take them along their paths as Jewish women.”
CSN, which holds various events for young Jewish adults throughout the year, has something of a scouting process for the bat and bar mitzvah event. At dinners, classes and other events, the topic of bat and bar Mitzvahs is often brought up. If it turns out that someone never had the chance to have one, they’re offered the opportunity and CSN hopes they say yes.
“We invited all girls who never had a bat mitzvah, and the girls who got involved with Chabad and wanted to learn more jumped at the chance,” said Rabbi Boyarsky.
The four women went through preparation that was as long as any young girl’s bat mitzvah process would be, if not longer. They studied constantly, involved themselves in Jewish community events, went to classes and participated in several community service events. One of them, Dana, even went on a trip to Israel this past summer to further connect with her Jewish roots.
Along with speeches from Rabbi Boyarsky, his wife Yocheved, Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, and student executives from CSN, each of the four bat mitzvah celebrants prepared a speech for the gala event, which was held at the University of Ottawa.
The evening was a night of celebration for all who attended. The bat mitzvah speeches focused on Jewish identity and the sense of community that comes with growing with your spirituality into the community. As the women spoke about their newfound sense of belonging in the Jewish community, they all thanked Rabbi Boyarsky, Yocheved and CSN, and their obvious sincerity was matched only by their excitement.
“The main thing that I gained from the experience was a sense of belonging. It is so wonderful to know that I have a purpose in other people’s lives, and I hope they know how important they are to me,” said Ariele.
“The whole process just reaffirmed why I love Jewish culture and community so much. Chaim, Yocheved and Chabad are the epitome of everything wonderful about Judaism, and I consider myself to be very fortunate to experience a bat mitzvah with them,” she said.