Back when Claire Mollie Gross turned 12, tradition did not allow her to celebrate a bat mitzvah.
She didn’t think twice about it and went on to excel in her education and career.
But when Gross, now 97, saw that people of all ages were celebrating their b’nai mitzvah at the Village Reform Congregation, an adult and senior congregation, she knew she had to finally have her bat mitzvah ceremony.
“In my lifetime I’ve accomplished a number of things: I graduated from college, graduated with a master’s, and taught high school for 50 years,” Gross said. “But this was another achievement I needed to have before I reach 100.”
Gross was part of a group of seniors who celebrated their b’nai mitzvah on Saturday at Village Reform Congregation, located inside Century Village, a retirement community in Pembroke Pines.
The group consisted of four women and one man, ages 61 to 97, who have been taking religion, preparation and Hebrew classes with Rabbi Steven Newman since last October in order to celebrate their b’nai mitzvah.
“They have worked diligently in classes with the rabbi,” said Elane Raileanu, president of the Village Reform Congregation. “The women were not allowed to do it before and this is a generation that was raised in the Depression so even the men sometimes were not bar mitzvahed.”
That was the case for Harold Horowitz, 92. His family did not attend synagogue regularly and he was never able to celebrate his bar mitzvah.
“This time I was just looking for a nice Jewish girl,” Horowitz joked. “It’s a great relief my bar mitzvah is done, but I am going to continue studying my Hebrew.”
During the ceremony, they each walked up to the bimah accompanied by chosen family members and put on the tallit, or prayer shawl.
“It was time that I got to go up there and say the prayers with the men,” 85-year-old Lorraine Meyers said. “I was choked up with emotion, I cried and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to do the song.”
But it was the second portion of the ceremony, where they had to do the Torah blessings in Hebrew, that had the group nervous.
“Who cares if you make a mistake? Only a few of us would know anyway,” Newman said.
One by one, they read in Hebrew as the crowd of more than 200 people applauded and cheered.
During her reading, 61-year-old Dulett Sands, the youngest member of the group, broke down in tears.
“I was very nervous and very emotional,” said Sands, who converted to Judaism last year. “You have to study and it’s not easy, but if you want to do it, you’ll do it.”
After the ceremony, family and friends enjoyed a lunch prepared by the volunteers in the congregation and two special cakes to celebrate the b’nai mitzvah.
The majority of the group said they will continue their Hebrew studies and want to take the necessary steps to celebrate their confirmation.
Carole Klugerman, 85, said she is happy she is finished with her bat mitzvah and is still debating her confirmation.
“I have to think about it,” Klugerman said. “Now I just need to take a little time off.”