No thunder sounded. No lightening struck.
On Saturday morning, March 18, 1922, two years after American women received the right to vote, Judith Kaplan, age 12, became the first American girl to mark her bat mitzvah during a public worship service. Believing that girls should have the same religious opportunities as their brothers, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, arranged for his oldest daughter to read Torah at his synagogue.
Torn between tradition and modernity, the Kaplan Bat Mitzvah marked a turning point for Conservative Judaism in America. By 1948, about a third of Conservative congregations had conducted Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. By the 1960s, Bat Mitzvah was a regular feature of Conservative congregational life. Today it is a mainstay in synagogues from Reform to Modern Orthodox.
To illustrate the female innovations of Jewish life, the National Museum of American Jewish History has launched, Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age, an exhibition of the story of how individual girls, their parents and rabbis changed communal values and practice to institute this now widely-performed ritual.
Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age is shown through April 27, 2012 at the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue, N.Y., and will then travel.
In 1962, when I was twelve, my mother was clear, “That’s only for boys.” My pivotal Jewish moment came as a young mother of three with my Adult Bat Mitzvah at B’nai Israel in the East End in 1985. Better late than never.