by Nancy Katz
“In gratitude I come today to celebrate the blessings in my life. I honor those who have helped me along the way and give thanks for their supportive presence. As I prepare to immerse in the waters of the mikveh, I appreciate the journey that has brought me to this moment.”
From Mayyim Hayyim’s “In Gratitude” Immersion Ceremony
In 1963 I was on the cusp of a new era; young women were beginning to celebrate B’not Mitzvah in Boston’s Conservative Jewish community; it was a new concept, an evolving tradition. Friday night. No tallit (prayer shawl). No Torah reading. No chanting. No fancy party at the Aperion Plaza like my big brother. Not the Bat Mitzvah I fantasized about. I considered it and then chose to have an all-girl party instead at a Chinese restaurant that still stands today near Neponset Circle.
Was I such a renegade? Was I so in touch with my own Jewish standards – influenced by five days a week of Hebrew School at Temple Beth Hillel in Mattapan and Hebrew College of (then) Brookline – that I wouldn’t accept something less than the real deal? Was it merely stage fright? Did I want to see the letters of the Torah dance above the scroll as they do when I now read or chant them?
I’m not sure I know my answer; my girlfriends barely remember their evenings. Most importantly, do I regret it?
Yes and no. Over the years, as the egalitarian movement moved into the realm of the synagogue, I have had the good fortune of being called to the Torah countless times to read the blessings before and after the Torah reading. And last year I studied the trope enough to chant directly from the Torah at Temple Shalom in Newton. I can now sight-read the Torah with high accuracy. Yet these great honors had not totally filled my desire to have my own Bat Mitzvah, my way.
I had a big birthday coming up in January of 2010 and an opportunity to have an adult Bat Mitzvah raised its head, but I was not a member of a synagogue, so I came up with the idea of a tallit ceremony and celebrated with a beautiful invitation, a cantor, and 40 family members and friends in my home in Teaneck, NJ. It was musical, meaningful, lovely, and delicious, but it was not a Bat Mitzvah with Torah and chanting.
Five quick years later, I returned to my birthplace of Boston after many years away. Mayyim Hayyim was introduced to me the first year I was back, during a tour with my cousin’s Temple. I was impressed.
Nancy Katz embraces friend/officiant Rabbi Larry Zierler and his wife Berni who sang the opening prayer “Oseh Shalom Bimromav”
Soon the question arose: how would I celebrate 65? I made a decision, along with my loved one, friends, and family, I would celebrate with a self-created ceremony at Mayyim Hayyim. No Torah, but two rabbis – one Reform, one Orthodox – two professional singers, and one guitar player who played Beatles songs and more.
As an Aquarian who loved water my entire life, from outdoor beach showers, to the Windjammers of the Caribbean, to the swimming lanes of the YMCA, I would have my version of a Bat Mitzvah – just 50 years or so after the fact.
Rabbi Larry Zierler gives an emotional explanation on the significance of water and the mikveh as a holy place for her Bat Mitzvah. Hayden Feldcher, left, cousin, played the guitar.
Several months before the event, I began discussing options, including food, music, and existing ceremonies, with Mikveh and Education Director, Lisa Berman, who was always there to answer my many questions. Everything became clear. I wanted a Bat Mitzvah, which I named my “Mikveh Mitzvah.”
With living water as the theme, there was singing of my favorite prayers; poetry readings; sibling readings/aliyot; my chanting trope from my self-selected Torah portion of Genesis; blessings for all followed by a kosher spread; and my immersion the next day in the living waters of the mikveh. A beautiful way for me to honor Jewish traditions and to celebrate my birthday milestone, my way.
Water lily at Long Hill Gardens, Nancy Katz’s “Water Around Us”
As a professional photographer whose most recent portfolio was named “Water Around Us,” Mayyim Hayyim was the perfect place to celebrate my life and my Bat Mitzvah, perhaps as unique in 2015 as it might have been in 1963.
Nancy Katz, former President of ZaZaCreative, LLC, in Teaneck, NJ, is a graduate of Girls’ Latin School of Dorchester and Hebrew College of Newton (formerly HTC of Brookline) and holds a BA in Sociology (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and a MEd from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College). She has published extensively (newspaper and magazine photo-illustrated articles) and has exhibited her photo work around the Northeast, including a series on the Jewish community of Cuba. She is currently a volunteer and docent at The Vilna Shul, Boston Center for Jewish Culture. http://www.zazaphoto.co