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Coral Gables

Group of adult women ‘complete the circle’ with bat mitzvahs

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish community, Ruth Stern was not given the chance to have a bat mitzvah.

But her twin brother was allowed to have his bar mitzvah.

"Women didn't count in those times," said Stern, 68, who was born and raised in Ecuador by German parents. “All the young men got their bar mitzvah one way or another.”

Stern said women were expected to take on a more subdued role in that time.

But things have changed.

Bat mitzvahs are now very common in Reform communities, and some temples — such as Temple Judea in Coral Gables — even offer adults the opportunity to take part in the rite-of-passage ceremony.

"I'm very proud of her," said Rolf Stern, who came from Ecuador to watch his twin and five other women take part in a b'not mitzvah, or group bat mitzvah, on June 1. "It's something she worked hard for."

To prepare for the big day, the group met once a week for two years.

The group of women learned Hebrew and prepared to read from the Torah — among other lessons.

“It was so meaningful for us to work with these students,” said Rabbi Judith Siegal, adding that the women in the class were very committed to their studies.

"It can be stressful,” Siegal said. “But this group not only connected with each other — they helped each other get the confidence they needed."

On Saturday morning, that support was clear.

The women exchanged smiles as each read from the Torah and offered words of encouragement. And at one point, Maya Slavin, 41, was handing out tissues to the other women as they stood on the bema, a type of raised platform.

Granted, she was in tears from the moment it all began.

Slavin grew up in an Orthodox community in Argentina and didn’t have the chance to have a bat mitzvah.

“It was only for boys,” said Slavin, a Coral Gables resident who works as a teacher at the temple and helps prepare children for their own ceremony.

“I said I am preparing them, but I’ve never done it," Slavin said. "For me now, it’s like completing that circle.”

She said that going through the journey has helped her connect to her students “because we got to do it together.”

Slavin and her colleague Melissa Martinez, 27, who is a convert to the faith, were study buddies as they prepared for their big day.

Martinez said she felt the ceremony was more meaningful to her as an adult than it would have been if she did it as a child.

“I think a 13-year-old would want to do it because ‘it’s what my parents want,’ ” said Martinez, a Cutler Bay resident. “At 13, it wouldn’t be as meaningful as it is now that I am older.”

Miriam Grossman-Rodriguez, 47, grew up in a conservative community and "never thought I would have an opportunity to do this."

She is also a teacher at the school, and said finishing the course had "brought me closer to God.”

“I feel more in touch with my Judaism," the West Kendall resident said.

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