2018-05-09 / Voice at the Shore

Shirat Hayam to offer two-year adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor

Torah. Shabbat. Mitzvot. These basic elements of Judaism can deepen our experience of Judaism and of life itself. Regardless of how much you know about Judaism and Jewish life, there is always more to learn.

That’s why Shirat Hayam’s Conservative Rabbi, Jonathan Kremer, is inviting all interested community members to become “Lomidin” (learners) in a two-year adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class starting May 23. The class will meet at Shirat Hayam in Ventnor on Wednesday nights, 7-8:30 p.m., from May through November, over the next two years.

Class members “will learn more about what Jews do and why,” said Kremer. “They will study cherished traditions and sacred texts and gain insight into religious services and festivals.” Participants may also choose to take part in the ritual of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

“This program is for adults who seek a broader understanding of their Jewish faith and for those interested in learning the basics (and more) about Judaism,” Kremer added. “In about 40 sessions spread over two summers, men and women learners will study, grow and celebrate together. Subjects include text, G-d, liturgy and praying, commandments, festivals, history, denominations, ethics, Jewish time and space, and Israel.”

Coincidentally, this class is being offered on the 40th anniversary of the Ventnor synagogue’s first adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, said Stella Ann Borenstein, who was a member of that class. That class of 20 women met once a week for at least nine months. “It was such a bonding experience for all of us to study together and meet together every week! We had classes in Bible, Hebrew, history. It was a great learning experience.”

That class was organized by Lois Fried and Carol Letzter, who are both still active members of the local Jewish community. Fried, who was then a young mother, had never gone to Hebrew school and had a serious desire to learn more about Judaism. “My two-month-old daughter was the class mascot! It was a beautiful several months that we studied together. When I finished, my family was very proud of me,” she recalled.

Although people came into that class with varying levels of Jewish knowledge, they all bonded regardless, becoming an active force in the synagogue. Notably, the class was offered at a time when the Conservative movement was just beginning to allow women to take part in minyans and aliyahs.

Kremer said hearing about that class, and the life-changing difference it made for the people who took it, is part of the reason he decided to offer the upcoming adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. “We hope to connect people to Judaism in a powerful way through this class,” he stressed.

Kim Strenger, a long-time Shirat Hayam member, is looking forward to taking the class and finally celebrating her Bat Mitzvah. “I have a tallit I bought in Israel that I don’t feel I can wear until I have a Bat Mitzvah,” said Strenger, who has taken several adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah courses but none that culminated in the celebratory ritual of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

What does the ceremony mean to her? “I think it’s beautiful. I’d like to be able to chant in Hebrew and fasten a loose end in my life.”

Lomidin in the Shirat Hayam class will celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah together on Simchat Torah, two years hence, said Kremer. Weekly classes begin Wednesday, May 23. The "school year" will run May through November, this year and next, taking a month off for the High Holidays. Tuition costs $180 for Shirat Hayam members and $360 for non-members. For more information, contact Rabbi Kremer at (609) 822-7116, extension 103. 

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