Sunday, March 22, 2009

eloquent elders practice for bat mitzvah

Today's New York Times profiles a group of older women--many in their 90s--who missed the chance to have a bat mitzvah in their youth, but jumped at the chance when it was offered by their suburban Cleveland synagogue. Focused on the speaking practice as the women prepare for the ceremony, the story has many touching moments, as the women recall days when girls' bat mitzvah ceremonies got short shrift, occurring on a Friday or omitting the reading of the Torah. This time, the women second-guessed themselves when it came to their own speeches:
Class members argued intensely over whether to limit each woman’s speech to three minutes. The concern was not whether aging bladders could handle a ceremony that lasts an hour and a half, but whether relatives, some of whom are flying in from as far as Boston and California for the event, might be bored. “These women have spent their entire lives nurturing other people, and now the spotlight is finally on them,” Rabbi Kutner said. “They were afraid of burdening their audience.”
I found their talks especially moving, based as they are on the Torah reading that would have been done in the week these women should have had their original ceremonies 80 years ago. And, if you need encouragement to practice your speaking, the article notes that the women who'd done something as simple as teach Sunday school for decades did better in their presentations.