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100th Anniversary of First Bat Mitzvah in US

March 18, 2022 marked the 100th Anniversary of the first Bat Mitzvah in the United States. Judith Kaplan celebrated becoming Bat Mitzvah on March 18, 1922 by reading Torah from a Humash on Shabbat morning in the synagogue of her father, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.

Judith Kaplan continued her Jewish studies, eventually earning a PhD from Hebrew Union College. For many years she taught music pedagogy and the History of Jewish Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Hilary Stern, daughter of founding members, Ed, z”l, and Sylvia Stern celebrated becoming Bat Mitzvah in July 1970.  Hilary was the first girl to mark the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah on a Shabbat morning at Congregation Beth Shalom.

Hilary Stern, Bat Mitzvah Photo for the Ruach, 1970

Stern Family in Town for Hilary's Bat Mitzvah
Sylvia Stern, Shari Stern, Ed's sister-in-law, Hilary Stern, Ed's brother, Ed's mother

Hilary was just 13 years old and unaware of all of the dynamics of the decision making at Beth Shalom during that time. But Sylvia and Ed were more aware. According to Hilary, “I know that my parents wanted me to have a Bat Mitzvah that was the same as a Bar Mitzvah, but at that time in Beth Shalom Bat Mitzvahs were only allowed on Friday night and not on Saturday morning. That meant that girls couldn't read the Torah, Haftorah or have an aliyah. My parents lobbied hard and I was able to have a Bat Mitzvah on a Saturday morning for the first time in Beth Shalom history, although under the conditions that I couldn't read the Torah or have an aliyah. I chanted the Haftorah, led the service and presented a D’var. I was given most of the work, but not the honors.”

Hilary’s two younger sisters were also “firsts” at Beth Shalom. In 1974, Shari Stern, z”l,  was the first girl at Beth Shalom to be given an aliya.  In 1978, Miri Stern was the first girl at Beth Shalom to read Torah. Sylvia was the first woman to have an aliya because she had her aliya at Shari’s Bat Mitzvah. According to Hilary “She says that she was terrified. My mother is very shy and is intimidated by singing or chanting in public. Even though she didn't want to, she forced herself to have the aliyah because she wanted to prove the point that women could have aliyot as well as men. I think that might have been the last time in her life that she accepted an aliyah.”

Our founding member, Dorothy Becker, z"l, was instrumental in opening the doors of Jewish study and ritual to women at Beth Shalom. On October 18, 1975, she read haftarah from the bimah as an Adult Bat Mitzvah. Read about this momentous occasion in Beth Shalom's history in this Jewish Transcript article.

Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784