Girl, 13, Ponders Jewish New Year as Rosh Hashanah Brings in 5757

By Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

Girl, 13, Ponders Jewish New Year as Rosh Hashanah Brings in 5757


Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Naomi Hoffman will be exclaiming "Happy New Year" today.

Tonight at sundown most of the area's 60,000 Jews will observe Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish New Year. It's the year 5757 in the Jewish calendar.

"It's not at all like the January New Year's with parties," said Naomi, 13, at her Clayton home after school this week. "We pray and listen to the Torah at services. It's a time to think about what we did wrong last year, tell people we hurt that we are sorry and plan for the year ahead." This evening opens the days of awe or High Holy Days. They continue until the evening of Sept. 23, Yom Kippur. These are defining High Holy Days for Naomi - her first as a confirmed adult Jew. The last day of August she was welcomed as a full member in a bat mitzvah ceremony. In Hebrew, bat mitzvah (pronounced baht-MEETS-vah) means "one who is commanded." She says she is lucky to be living today, when girls can read from the Torah in Hebrew at a bat mitzvah. A generation ago fewer girls had initiation ceremonies. (* The following text appeared in the THREE STAR edition *) Her mother is fluent in Hebrew and is Jewish to the core, but she never had a bat mitzvah. A New York Conservative rabbi invented the women's service when he invited his teen-age daughter to read on the Sabbath just as boys did for their bar mitzvahs. That was in the 1920s. Girls' initiation was not repeated widely for another 30 years, said Anne Lapidus Lerner, vice chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. (* end of THREE STAR text *) From the 1950s the practice began to grow until today the majority of conservative synagogues have bat mitzvah services. Reform temples that have bar mitzvah services for boys - many do not - generally have bat mitzvah services for girls, too, she said. At her bat mitzvah, Naomi committed herself to fulfill all requirements of Jewish ritual and civil law. She must pray daily, observe the Sabbath and holidays and give to charity. The current holy days are "going to be very special. I get to sit with my parents in the sanctuary and hear all the prayers - not just shorter stories about them for children," said Naomi, a seventh-grader at Wydown School. She and her classmates at Hebrew school previewed those Scripture selections Monday and Wednesday. "It will be long but not boring. And (on Yom Kippur) I will have to fast from water and food." Since she was a toddler, she has loved the holidays, with family gatherings and delicious food. But with two intense years of bat mitzvah preparation behind her, her understanding is deeper. So is her prayer life. The new year is a time of prayer and contemplation, she said. …

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