Charlotte Gottlieb, 93, grew up in an Orthodox home in Jersey City, N.J., at a time when a girl did not become a bat mitzvah. So next month, 80 years after reaching the age of 13, she will join three other women at the Five Star Premier Residences of Chevy Chase to celebrate their coming of age by reading from the Torah and giving a speech.
Since October, local Cantor Susan Berkson has been meeting once a week with Gottlieb, Charlotte Markowitz, 85, Barbara Solan, 87, and Sy Laufe, 90, to prepare them for the service. Berkson will officiate.
“When they were growing up, women weren’t having bat mitzvahs. It was really not a thing happening, it was just the bar mitzvahs,” Berkson says.
Solan initiated the bat mitzvah group when she moved into the Five Star and realized that many of the Jewish women there did not have a bat mitzvah ceremony or celebration. She found 10 women who wanted to prepare and participate in the ritual. Four have stuck with it nearly to the end.
“I said, ‘Look at the inequality,’ because I was always for women’s rights, and the way it was then it was only for the men,” says Solan, who was born seven years after the world’s first bat mitzvah ceremony took place in 1922. “So I’m very happy to be part of this, and I’m very happy to be with these women. It’s been a pleasure.”
Their families and friends will share in the simcha.
Berkson says the women are polishing their speeches, mastering their Torah portion and starting to learn their haftarah portions. She is impressed with how quickly they learned Hebrew — mastering the alef-bet and reading from the Torah in only seven months.
“It’s usually a two- or three-year program at synagogues for children,” Berkson says. “At their ages, it is very unusual. It’s quite an achievement.”
Laufe said she joined the group to learn Hebrew. When she was growing up in Pittsburgh, her Reform temple didn’t have b’nai mitzvah or b’not mitzvah ceremonies.
“I learned the alphabet and I have learned to read Hebrew. I’m still a work in progress,” she says. “The thing is, I’m not really ready for a bat mitzvah. But at this age — I’m 90 — I would say that you have to be in a hurry.”
Gottlieb says of Laufe: “We are so proud of this lady, because she started not knowing one word, and she managed through the help of Susan to learn the whole Hebrew alphabet and to read it.”
Markowitz says they call each other the “Four Musketeers.”
“We’re all for one and one for all,” she says.” I’m looking forward to this and my kids are looking forward to seeing their mother finally having the same opportunity that they had.”