When I was a child growing up in the Christian faith, one of the highlights of my life was the day I was baptized. While there was no set time for this spiritual ritual in the Baptist church where I was a member, I was always told that I should become born again and baptized by the time I was 12. By that age, I had spent countless Sundays in Sunday School, studying the Scriptures — mainly the New Testament.
I missed the traditional cutoff age by one year. I'd just turned 13, when the Rev. James Brown of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and the Mother Lelia Hughey came early one cold February morning to take me to a local rock pit to be baptized. What a day that was. I came up from the water splashing and sputtering and spitting out water as Mother Hughey sang "Take me to the water ... to be baptized," and wrapped me in a warm, dry blanket. Afterward I felt that I was a better person because of that spiritual experience.
So, I fully understood Silvia Stark when she told me how she felt when she joined to others their bat and bar mitzvahs on May 19 at Temple Judea in Coral Gables.
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"I feel great," said Stark, 62. "I feel a stronger connection with my Jewish roots. I loved every part of the studying process and the people involved — the rabbis and my study partners. I learned so much from them."
Stark was one of three adults at the temple who experienced the age old Jewish ritual, usually performed when a child is 13. The other adults: Niecie Roth, and Stephen Felsen.
Roth, 71, said she was happy for the opportunity to have her bat mitzvah because while growing up her family belonged to a conservative synagogue, where the ritual was not for girls.
"But the year I was 14, I was invited to a cousin's bat mitzvah. I had no idea that girls could do that," she said.
The seed had been planted and the thought of having her bat mitzvah was always in her mind, she said. Then, 11 years ago, she joined Temple Judea, where she saw other adults having their bar and bat mitzvahs. "When this class started in September 2017, I joined," she said.
"The class was very revealing because we got to focus on what was in the prayer book. It was both a learning and a prayer experience for me," said Roth.
Said Stark: "I thought of the classes as a challenge, because at my age having to learn another language, the chanting and everything wasn't easy. But in the process of learning, I gained a lot from the experience.
Born and raised in Argentina, Stark said at the time girls weren't bat mitzvahed. It was something she accepted. She grew up, got married and moved to the United States with husband Alberto. They are the parents of a son and a daughter.
Stark did not attend college when she was young, but always dreamed of studying psychology. Her dream came true when she was 50, she got her BA in psychology, and a minor in criminal justice.
"Our daughter and our son, both had their bat and bar mitzvahs here," she said proudly.
Roth is married to Lesley Howard. She has a daughter from a previous marriage and four stepchildren (one deceased) and five grandchildren.
Felsen, who is married to Dr. Gabriel Felsen, joined Temple Judea several years ago. Gabriel Felsen converted to Judaism, had a bar mitzvah and became very involved in reading Torah. His involvement in the temple inspired Stephen, who wanted to be bar mItzvahed and to find himself spiritually. He started taking classes and now shares the joy of Torah with Gabriel.
Ministering the Elderly
The 23rd annual conference on Ministering to the Elderly will take place from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on June 6 at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, 137 NE 19TH St. This year's title is, "Enhancing Hope: Supporting the Quality of Life and the Dignity of Death."
If you want to attend or for more information, contact Rabbi Fred Klein, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, at 305-56-4000.
Volunteer couple moving away
South Florida will soon say goodbye to two devoted volunteers, Bob and Meda Jensen. The couple, who will soon be moving to Texas for health reasons, want to pass on the contacts for volunteering at the Homestead Soup Kitchen and the Florida Pioneer Museum.
To volunteer at the soup kitchen, call Karen Brindle at 786-556-4162. To volunteer at the museum, call 305-246-9531 and leave a message.
We wish you godspeed, Bob and Meda.
Warm congratulations to PACT (People Acting for Community Together), which recently celebrated 30 years of "holding public officials accountable for fair and just practices in Miami-Dade County," according to a press release.
The North Dade arm of the organization celebrated at Temple Beth Sholom on May 21, while the South Dade members celebrated at Christ the King Catholic Church on May 22.
Free voice recital
Music lovers will want to attend a free voice recital presented by Performer's Music Institute at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at Miami Shores Community Church (United Church of Christ), 9823 NE Fourth Ave.
The program will include vocal selections from opera, musical theater, art songs and popular music. The music will be performed by, Rosie Herrera, lyric-coloratura soprano; Daisy Hoover, lyric-coloratura soprano; Brian Inerfeld, lyric tenor; Celeste Landeros, soprano; Jennifer Maer, mezzo-soprano; Giovanni Maschi, bass; Melissa Ruiz, light-lyric soprano, and Michael Zlatkin, bass.
Pianists Gregory Szeto and Jared Peroune will accompany the singers.
Admission is free. Oscar Diaz Jr. is artistic director of Performer's Music Institute. Call 305-757-725 for more information. You may also visit or www.performersmusic.com.
The Plaza Health Network Foundation invites the community to an "afternoon of fun, friends, fashions, food and opera" at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 5, at the Peacock Garden Cafe, 28889 McFarlane Rd. in Coconut Grove.
You will enjoy an informal fashion show presented by St. John and an introduction to the Foundation's new Cultural Arts Program and a performance by the Magic City Opera.
Tickets are $25 per person and may be purchased at https://hrld.us/2xm92RK. RSVP by calling foundation development director Kristyn Schwartz at 305-606-1920, or by emailing her at email@example.com.
For more information, call foundation executive director Ilene Zweig at 305-29-6863.