What little I remember about my own bar/bat mitzvah era is that exponentially more kids came to the party than the service, there was a lot of shaming going on around, “Did you see how short/tight her dress is?” and everyone received a t-shirt or sweatshirt emblazoned with the bar/bat mitzvah’s name and we would all wear it to school the next Monday and then never wear it again.
Such was Jewish life in a secular New Jersey suburb.
Before this month, the last bat mitzvah I attended was my own. There were no apparel-based party favors, but there was a chocolate fountain. As far as the service goes, I remember jack about my portion except it was something about how you should treat your slaves like employees, and I was not #woke enough to think of a masterful critique of postbellum racism.
So on the day of a family friend’s bat mitzvah earlier this October, I had low expectations. It was all the way out in fakakta Brooklyn, and my mom had already told me I looked sad and tired that morning (which indeed is how I was feeling).
But let me tell you: It was hands down the best bat mitzvah I’ve ever been to. Turns out, kids these days are pretty damn woke.
Gloria’s Torah portion was Parashat Bereshit, the one where God creates the world (no biggie). Some might say she got lucky, but really, Gloria took the “Greatest Hits” of Torah portions and gave what other congregants later called the best bat mitzvah speech they’d ever heard.
Discussing the story of Adam and Eve, Gloria picked up on an inconsistency: “The Bible has two versions to the creation of Adam and Eve, one where man and woman are created together,” she began. “As the Torah says, ‘male and female, God created them.’ And another where Eve is born from Adam’s rib. It says, ‘And God fashioned the rib that God had taken from the man into a woman, and God brought her to the man.’”
(I would like emphasize at this point that Gloria used a translation of the Torah that does not to refer to God with pronouns, utterly destroying the accepted narrative that God is a man, or even gendered.)
She explained this inconsistency by citing the documentary hypothesis theory, which posits that “there were multiple authors to the Torah, identifying them as J, E, P, and D.” This theory also explains why the Torah uses different names to identify God.
This green 13-year-old then went on to teach the congregation about Lilith. According to the Midrash, or as Gloria referred to it, “rabbinical fan-fiction about the Tanakh,” Adam had a wife before Eve, named Lilith, and they had been born at the same time. As the story goes, Adam believed that, as the man, he was the head of the household. Lilith called bullshit and demanded equality, so consequently God banished her to be the mother of demons. Eve was then created from Adam’s rib because if “she came from a piece of him she would always be indebted to him and thus, less than him.”
Gloria connected this story to the sexism intrinsic to Judaism, from women praying in separate rooms to men thanking God in prayer that they were not born women. Gloria concluded that Lilith “symbolizes the feminist movement, the idea of avot v’imahot, the matriarchy and patriarchy working together as equals instead of as opposites.” Gloria is certainly not the first person to analyze Judaism and Lilith’s tale through a feminist lens, but may I remind you she’s 13! Years! Old! And she got there all on her own.
(At this point you might be envisioning Gloria’s parents as helicopter liberals who named their daughter after Steinem and practically wrote this speech for her. Not the case; I have confirmed with both parental parties that they saw and heard nothing of Gloria’s speech until two days before the event.)
And then, this girl, this newly minted woman, ended her speech, presented on the day Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, with, “Lilith: I believe you!”
That still gives me chills.
The whole congregation burst into applause, despite the rabbi having asked everyone in advance to shout “Yashir koach” in lieu of applause… but even she conceded that applause for Gloria’s speech was inevitable. Did I mention the rabbi was a lesbian? (I know that female and LGBTQIA+ Jewish clergy very much exist and have existed, but as a queer Jew who never saw this growing up, it was exciting for me.)
And the party! Not only did the party not suck, but it was fun! Gloria’s rambunctious friends danced un-self-consciously to such bat mitzvah bangers as “The Cha Cha Slide” and “YMCA.” Indeed, there was a slideshow of Gloria’s life, and there was also an open wine bar for those of us old enough to partake.
I’m well aware that this sort of bat mitzvah and progressive rhetoric is only possible in the climate where it occurred, a Reform synagogue in Brooklyn. Perhaps it would be even more astounding had it happened in a Conservative or, dare I say, Orthodox context, but this was still impressive. If Gloria could find her way to Lilith and feminism at 13 on her own, then there must be other kids who can, too.
All I have to say is I wish more bar and bat mitzvahs had been like Gloria’s when I was on the party scene. Mazel tov to Gloria, and to the young people who will undoubtedly lead fourth-wave feminism.