There’s No One Age to Celebrate Becoming A Bat Mitzvah

headshot of Rabbi Rachel GartnerOn January 6, the Jewish Life community celebrated a virtual joint Bat Mitzvah. Read about the friendships formed, the logistical challenges, and the “holy chutzpah” from the four women involved.  

Rabbi Rachel Gartner, director for Jewish life.

At the start of the academic year, 2019-2020 I was approached by three students, Rebecca Hollister, Lily Rubinstein, and Nina Armstrong, asking if I would mentor them so they might observe a group Bat Mitzvah. Delighted and deeply moved, I embraced the opportunity to work with these amazing women. We set about meeting every week and planned a group Bat Mitzvah Shabbat service for March of 2020. Oh, the best-laid plans. Needless to say, we had to cancel the service. Thereafter, Rebecca, Lily, and Nina went about adjusting to life at home, and to university life online and I assumed we’d regroup some time in the distant future when we were all back on campus. But I should’ve remembered what I learned years ago, never assume anything when it comes to Georgetown students. They always surprise and amaze you. And of course, the women persisted!  

Over the summer break, they reached back out to me to resume lessons and set a new date.  And that’s what we did. The result was spectacular. With little religious learning (two had to teach themselves Hebrew from scratch) and tremendous love, dedication, and holy chutzpah, Rebecca, Lily, and Nina finished their studies and dazzled us all by leading a Shabbat service for our community and their families. The service, which we held online on January 6, from four locations, was an unparalleled highlight of my 18-year rabbinate. What a siman tov u’mazal tov – a wonderful, wonderful blessing – yehey lanu – it was for me, and for us all to behold. 

headshot of Rebecca Hollister

Rebecca Hollister, C’21 

I always had a vague idea that I came from a line of Jewish women. However, the resources for me to cultivate my Jewish identity were not available in my town. When I came to Georgetown University and realized there was a vibrant Jewish community, I knew that I wanted to give my faith a chance. I went to the first Shabbat, and though it was overwhelming since I had never been to a service, I rode the waves of the songs and let myself sink deeper into my Jewish roots. It was about two years later when conversations with Rabbi at a retreat helped me to realize I wanted more out of my growing faith. 

Finding other students who felt the same was wonderful; Lily, Nina, and I looked forward to our weekly Bat Mitzvah classes with Rabbi. Then, the pandemic changed everything, and I was forced to step away from my faith. After a rough few months, I realized how much I thrived when actively part of my Jewish community. So, I decided to return to the classes. Though a Zoom Bat Mitzvah ceremony brought logistical challenges, I think it also created an opportunity for many more people to attend and share in this moment. I was able to honor my great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother in an incredibly powerful way. My heart had never felt so full. Having a Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the age of 21 was an incredible experience and a shining light that cut through these dark times.

headshot of a woman wearing glasses

Lily Rubinstein, C’22

Throughout my time at Georgetown, I’ve always appreciated the emphasis Jewish Life places on the idea that “there is no one way to be Jewish.” For the first 18 years of my life, I had told myself there was a checklist I had to meet in order to be Jewish enough, and that I was nowhere near checking off any of those marks. I didn’t see a need for Judaism in my life, because I had never had the space to create that relationship for myself. Despite that, I came to Georgetown eager to broaden my experiences and I couldn’t resist the pull of Georgetown’s Jewish community, which spiraled into me being where I am now: a JSA co-president who had a Zoom Bat Mitzvah and with Jewish Life at the core of my college experience.

Throughout this journey, it has been important to remind myself why I am doing this, and the answer has always been: not because I felt a need to prove I am Jewish enough to others, which is probably how I would’ve felt three years ago, but because through this learning journey, I have been able to grow comfortable in my own Jewish identity and define what it means for me to be Jewish, and in doing so, grow as an individual and a leader on campus. There’s something incredibly empowering about choosing to have a Bat Mitzvah at university at age 19, completely out of my own volition and walking through this journey with two other women at similar stages of their Jewish journeys not only reinforced the idea that my Jewish upbringing and identity are valid, but bonded me to Nina and Rebecca in such a special way that I will forever be grateful for.

a seated young woman smiling

Nina Armstrong, C’23

My Hebrew name is Bluma, the name of my great-grandmother who came to America from Belarus. Although I don’t know much about her life, I hope that I can use her name to honor her legacy today. I wanted to have a bat mitzvah to connect with my family and keep the tradition alive. Sharing the Bat Mitzvah preparation process and ceremony with all women, Rebecca and Lily, as well as Rabbi Rachel was such a special experience! 

Practice over Zoom felt like an open space to discuss and question anything that came up during our studies. It was such an honor to learn and grow with Rebecca and Lily. I feel very lucky to call them good friends. Rabbi Rachel showed us the richness of our Jewish tradition. She encouraged, taught, and supported us in every way possible. We are all extremely grateful for all the time and energy she gave us. Our joint Bat Mitzvah ceremony was unplanned, yet perfect for our time. Family and friends who couldn’t have made it to Washington for the planned one were able to attend. The ceremony raised the spirits of my family and friends in such a difficult time. The Zoom ceremony was very much of its time; it will be a tough one to forget.

Watch the Zoom recording of the B’not Mitzvah.