The Journey of a Bat Mitzvah


Courtesy of Natalie Finkelstein ('23)

Blowing the candles on her cake, Natalie Finkelstein (’23) celebrates her adulthood and newfound chapter of her Jewish religion.

When I was younger, nothing excited me more than the idea of having a bat mitzvah. Although, of course, it did end up being a beautiful and amazing experience, the undertaking of work and preparation before the main event was immense. Not only was the stress of reading the Torah put on me, but my parents had to deal with the expenses of time and money that accompanied my bat mitzvah. Despite these ordeals, my bat mitzvah turned out to be one of the best and most pivotal moments in my life.
In the Jewish religion, becoming a bar or bat mitzvah marks the coming to age. During the service, the bar/bat mitzvah, usually around the age of 12 or 13, reads a portion of the Torah, a portion of the Haftarah, and then presents his or her own written D’var Torah, which captures the essence of his or her Torah portion and how it applies to the bar or bat mitzvah’s life. The Torah is, simply put, an older version of the Bible (hence its other name being the Old Testament), whereas the Haftarah is part of a separate series of books related to the Torah. Many bar and bat mitzvahs learn their Torah portions first on paper before converting to the authentic Torah scroll.
My Torah portion was about sacrificing animals to God. “Quite dark,” some might say — and they’re right. It was called וַיִּקְרָא (pronounced “Vayikra” in English), meaning “And he called;” these were the first words of my Torah portion. My D’var Torah was pretty difficult to write, but I compared sacrificing animals to the sacrifices I make in dance, school, and other activities to balance my schedule. Since everything that a bar/bat mitzvah must chant is written in Hebrew, it typically takes around a year to learn this foreign material and essentially memorize it. I started studying for my portions on March 10, 2018, a little more than a year before my bat mitzvah. Learning the portions came relatively easy to me, but it was stressful when it came to reading from the actual Torah and not just a piece of paper.
But does everyone think of this strenuous studying and preparation when they hear someone say, “I’m having a bat mitzvah”? No, not really. Many would think of the celebration that comes after the service. On many occasions, that’s what the bar or bat mitzvah is most excited for. I, of course, speak from personal experience.
The celebration was, in my opinion, the most exciting part of having a bat mitzvah.
The theme of my bat mitzvah party was outer space, displayed as “Natalie’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and the sight of it was breathtaking. My family hired a DJ, photographer, and videographer for the event, as many families do, to capture a moment we’d remember forever.
Overall, I loved the experience of having a bat mitzvah. When it was all over, I was so proud of how far I had come. Becoming an adult in the Jewish religion was rewarding for me, and I’d bet that many other young Jews would feel the same about their experience.