Working In the Box: Bat Mitzvah and Beyond
I founded ACHOT, an innovative B’nai Mitzvah program for mothers and daughters, as my daughter’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah year sparked my desire to celebrate with her the vital role of Jewish women in community life. I am actively engaged with my synagogue and other Jewish institutions that play a variety of roles in community life but found that they offered no programs that focused on the relationship between women and these shared core rites of passage. Moreover, I saw a missed opportunity in their ability to engage teens and women in such a pivotal and meaningful time in their lives. The idea for ACHOT came from a personal yearning to supplement my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah preparation, and I was sure there would be others across the community who would share my desire to make the process of becoming a young woman in the Jewish community (aka The Bat Mitzvah) a transformative experience about relationships and finding your place as a young adult, as a Jew, and as a woman.
Through support and collaboration with educators from my synagogue and day school communities, I piloted a program this past Spring called ACHOT, which means “sisters” in Hebrew, and also serves as an acronym representing each of the program’s elements. A stands for Achiyot (אחיות), meaning "Sisterhood." CH stands for CHaggigah (חגיגה), meaning "Celebration." O (ו) means "and," and T stands for (תורה) "Torah." Together ACHOT embodies Sisterhood, Celebration and Torah.
The inaugural group of fourteen girls and their mothers are members of four different synagogues that range from Conservative to Modern Orthodox. The girls are all Jewish Day School students, a factor that eased scheduling of the monthly sessions in coordination with the school calendar and Jewish holidays. However, once news of the program spread, families from a variety of private schools, public schools and synagogues showed interest in participating in the program. Additional demand seems to indicate ACHOT will keep growing.
The ACHOT program begins as girls enter their Bat Mitzvah year. Mothers and daughters can meet in synagogues, JCCs, or members’ homes to learn together through informal study, discussions, activities and living Torah. We study Torah and have study questions like “How is social media and new technology like a modern Garden of Eden?” We leave time for journaling, with prompts like “What are some good choices I can make this year?” and “What are some ways I can help my friends make good choices this year?” We play truth or dare.
The intent of the program is to help girls develop a positive self-image and meaningful personal goals within a pluralistic and nurturing environment of Jewish women. Being rooted in a Jewish institution (e.g. synagogue, community center or school) can offer a wide array of resources for in-depth study and a multitude of Judaic learning opportunities. In addition, this immersive experience is low-cost. It can supplement institutional programming through engagement without adding a budgetary burden to staff or institutions. The collaboration between staff and ACHOT members helps lay the program’s foundation, but the potential of the program lies in where its members take it. Its evolution will be based on what types of experiences and meaningful connections are important to each ACHOT group. The hope is to create a web of many ACHOT communities whose common thread connects mothers and daughters through living Torah together.
Being Jewish automatically makes us part of something larger than ourselves as we become part of a rich history and an evolving story. Through the ACHOT program, our girls have an opportunity to become part of that story and to create a path for the next generation of Jewish women. ACHOT communities can create a lasting gift for mothers to give to their daughters as they prepare to become B’nai Mitzvah. The gift of a shared Jewish experience is one of the many beautiful things about Judaism and is a gift that keeps on giving. I also hope that through study and experiential learning the ACHOT program will foster meaningful connections to synagogues and to other traditional Jewish institutions.
For more information about ACHOT and how to introduce it in your community, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
In addition to founding ACHOT Mindy Berger (WHP, DC13) has been a member of the Board of Directors of the JCC of Greater Washington since 2008, where she has held numerous leadership and executive cabinet positions. Mindy also sat on the Board of Directors of the Charles E Smith Jewish Day School, where she chaired marketing and recruitment committees. Mindy has been an active PTO participant since 1992 and spent several years managing volunteers. She has also been engaged in volunteer work for Pinemere Camp, B’nai Israel Congregation and the former Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning. Mindy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.