Religious milestone: It’s never too late to become an adult

A rite of passage for members of the Jewish faith is the bar or bat mitzvah. Usually occurring when the person is age 13, it is the point of being accepted as a responsible adult into the Jewish community.

The term “bar mitzvah” translates in Hebrew to “son of the commandment.” “Bat” is “daughter” in Hebrew.

Adults who missed out on this ritual can have another opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to their religion.

Dayna Arnowitz and Elizabeth Cramer are two Wilton residents who proved it is never too late to dance the horah. Ms. Arnowitz and Ms. Cramer were two of a total of nine adults who had their b’nai mitzvah on Friday night, Feb. 22, at Temple B’Nai Chaim in Georgetown. Rabbi Leah Cohen presided over the ceremony as the individuals reached their spiritual adulthood.

“I had never been bat mitzvahed,” said Ms. Arnowitz. “I also wanted to do it. I spoke with my rabbi in February 2011, and she put this group together.”

Rabbi Cohen put a notice in the temple newsletter to see if there was interest, and soon a plan was in place.

“The whole process of a person becoming b’nai mitzvah as an adult is an amazing experience, for the students, their teachers, their families and the entire congregation,” said Rabbi Cohen. “Together we share in a journey of faith that starts for the student in a deeply personal place of yearning for knowledge and connection and reaches a place of heightened spirituality and a profound sense of accomplishment.

“Along the way we are all touched. It is a transformative experience for the students and an inspiring one for their community.”

The adults began their studies that September by learning the Hebrew alphabet.

“I only knew what was on the dreidel,” said Ms. Arnowitz.

A year of studying Hebrew followed, along with several months of learning prayers. Ms. Arnowitz said the next stage was for the students to receive the portions of the Torah they had to memorize. The cantor at Temple B’Nai Chaim, Jon Sobel, would record each person as they spoke so they could hear how they sounded to perfect their recitation.

Ms. Arnowitz said that after battling breast cancer, this was a check mark on her personal “bucket list.”

“I want to get reacquainted with my faith,” she said. “I grew up Orthodox, and girls weren’t allowed to be on the bima. (The bima is the platform where the Torah is read.) We couldn’t read for the Torah when I was young.”

Indeed, many Orthodox Jews reject the notion of girls reading from the Torah. Women also do not lead services. While some changes have been made, it is still an accepted practice among Orthodox Jews.

Non-Orthodox Jews accept women in this regard.

“It’s a very emotional journey,” Ms. Arnowitz continued. My daughter is going through it now, and I wanted to have the knowledge of what she is going through. I felt some sadness that my mother wasn’t there to be with me for this, but it was also so joyous.”

The b’Nai mitzvah ceremony has grown into an event that is treated much like a wedding, with parties that can go from simple and eloquent to extravagant.

The ceremony, held in the temple on the Shabbat closest to the bar mitzvah (when a boy turns 13 or a girl turns 12) involves reading from the Torah and the reciting of prayers.

Upon completion, the adult is responsible to observe the 613 mitzvot (or commandments), as well as other facets of the life of an adult Jew, such as being counted in a minyan (which is a prayer quorum of 10).

The pride that Ms. Arnowitz felt seemed evident as she spoke.

“It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” she said, “along with having my kids and getting married.”