Every culture and society has its own ceremony or experience to mark the point in life in which a young person starts on the road to adulthood.
In Judaism, this commemoration is called Bar Mitzvah (for a boy) or Bat Mizvah (for a girl). Usually held around the child’s 13th birthday, it is both a religious experience and a time for family and friends to celebrate the new phase in this person’s life. While Bar Mitzvahs have been held for centuries, a Bat Mitzvah is a relatively new addition to the Jewish life cycle.
Last Friday was the 100th birthday of the first Bat Mitzvah. On March 18th of 1922, Judith Kaplan (daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) became the first girl to officially celebrate her entrance into the world as a Jewish adult.
Coming only two years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it was just reading from the Torah. It was a revolutionary act, opening the door for future generations of Jewish women to move beyond the traditional spheres of marriage, housework, and motherhood. Since then, it has become standard practice within most streams of Judaism that both girls and boys will have their turn on the bimah.
In honor of this anniversary, an Instagram account has been created to tell Kaplan’s story in a way to speaks to this generation of kids. It’s cute, charming, and reminds me of my own excitement of becoming a Bat Mitzvah almost 30 years ago.
If I am reminded of one thing, is that feminism, like all social movements, cannot exist in a bubble. Without allies, it is nearly impossible to turn slogans and ideas into reality. Rabbi Kaplan, in our modern vernacular, was a feminist ally. It is through him and his daughter, we would still be stuck in the dark ages and the outdated idea of what women can and cannot do.