By Aaron Berger
Special to HAKOL
A girl’s bat mitzvah traditionally occurs at age 12-13, but on May 5 at Congregation Keneseth Israel, Nina Pinsley, Barbara Garrison, Lisa Tumbleson and Lisa’s daughter Aviv had a joint adult b’not mitzvah. Together, they committed to the Torah and Jewish life.
“These ladies are terrific people,” said Alan Salinger, KI’s adult religion teacher. He taught the women Hebrew, and with help from Rabbi Seth Phillips, prepared them for their bat mitzvahs. “Adult women who have not been bat mitzvahed can do it any time. Through the classes, Nina, Barbara, Lisa and Aviv started from scratch learning the Hebrew alphabet. I enjoyed teaching them because they had a strong passion to do this, and to do it well.”
“It was an emotional moment for them, and for everyone who attended,” Salinger added. “They beautifully conducted the service together and read from the Torah. And Aviv elegantly designed the ceremony’s program.”
Pinsley’s parents did not have a good experience at religious school when they were children, so she never went when she was growing up. Her parents came to the ceremony though, and were excited for her. “My children currently attend religious school at KI, and my daughter was recently bat-mitzvahed. This inspired me to start learning,” she said.
“My husband Mark previously had taken Hebrew with Alan,” Pinsley said of her journey to become a bat mitzvah. “I started in September of last year and had to learn quickly. My 11-year-old son was jealous because of how fast my education went, but he still helped me study. And Mark accommodated the family schedule for me. I am relieved the experience is over, but also proud I was able to share the moment with my family.”
“The Torah portion was challenging,” she added. “We were given recordings to listen to at home. My classmate Aviv also suggested an app called Pocket Torah, that I would listen to while driving to and from work. Being a parent and working full-time challenged finding time to study. But the fact that my class and my kids’ religious school classes coincided once a week did help.”
As for her classmates, Pinsley said, “It was interesting to have four different personalities in the class brought together by one common goal. I appreciated having a joint bat mitzvah with them.”
Garrison truly had an amazing experience. “The bond among my classmates and I cannot be broken," she said. "Having a joint bat mitzvah with them made it bittersweet. The mutual encouragement and joyous times we spent together makes it hard to realize we will no longer be crossing paths every week.”
Garrison has 11 grandchildren. The oldest is 21 and the youngest is 6 months. “I was inspired by other women at KI that had their adult bat mitzvah, such as Vikki Dunn and Bunny Filler. The congregation is incredible, loving and warm. I am eternally grateful to them.”
Garrison converted to Judaism about 11 years ago. “My husband was raised Jewish and shared with me the joys of Jewish life. But after hearing the prayers and trying to follow Hebrew for as long as I did, I did not feel complete without having had a bat mitzvah. I now feel more formally connected.”
Garrison started classes last August. “Alan had great resources for us. He was always so genuine and patient. When there was no religious school at KI, Alan hosted all four of us at his house.”
In addition to Salinger, Garrison acknowledges the support of several other people: “My family, especially my husband who would listen to me rehearse the chants. KI’s religious school director Rena Fraade gave us recorded Torah portions for us to listen to at home. And Marcia Berkow, who originally started the KI Adult Hebrew classes, would substitute when Alan was not available.”
“Overcoming my emotions to become a daughter of the Torah was challenging,” Garrison concluded, “but being able to touch the Torah as it was opened for my first time was a remarkable experience. I feel calm now that the ceremony is over, and also love and joy.”
As for the mother-daughter duo, “I wanted a bat mitzvah because my daughter Aviv wanted one,” Lisa Tumbleson said. “My mom is Jewish, but my dad is Irish Catholic. Growing up my father did not want any religious affiliation in our family,” but she decided to join her daughter in celebrating their b’not mitzvah together.
“First, we went to Temple Covenant of Peace, receiving good information from Rabbi Melody Davis,” Tumbleson said, “but we live in Kutztown and wanted a place closer to home. We discovered KI and fell in love. Aviv and I started classes together last fall. Alan was so patient, kind and encouraging.”
Similar to Pinsley, Tumbleson listened to the Pocket Torah app in her car to help learn her Torah portion. Outside of the recordings KI provided, Tumbleson also watched videos online of people chanting Torah. “My family regularly listened to me rehearse, too,” she added.
“It was special, the four of us did it together,” Tumbleson concluded. “I was nervous and overwhelmed, but with the other women’s encouragement I felt supported. Plus, it was very special to be bat mitzvahed with my daughter; learning, watching and helping each other. Aviv kept me calm, reminding me to breathe. I feel more fulfilled as a Jew now that I have been bat mitzvahed.”
“I was not bat mitzvahed at 13 because my family was not practicing religion,” said Tumbleson’s daughter Aviv, who is now 16. “With no synagogue in Kutztown, it is difficult to get involved with Jewish life.”
“I enjoyed being bat mitzvahed with my mom,” Aviv said. “And I liked the class, we had good camaraderie. Nina and Barbara were like my second moms. Everyone supported each other, and I did not feel excluded being younger than everyone else. I really appreciated the support from my two closest high school friends Nat Kenyon and Daniel Smith, too. They came to the ceremony and had a good time at their first Jewish service.”
“Being raised secular, I felt pressure as a diet Jew,” she concluded. “But I worked hard to prove to myself I could do the bat mitzvah. I feel more at peace with recognizing I am Jewish.”
Anyone interested in furthering their adult Jewish education can contact any of our local synagogues. Find contact information on page 31.