On May 7 our class, the Dibrot, was honored at the Kehillat Shabbat service. Tom Plotz, lay leader of the service, and Cantorial Soloist Robin Helzer, periodically invite graduates of the many previous classes to chant the Torah and Haftorah portions, give the D’var Torah and recite the blessings. While our class has had this honor before, this year’s tenth anniversary was especially sweet and special. Janis Colton gave the d’var Torah and tied in that week’s parashah Achrei Mot with a beautiful recognition of what the experience and community have meant to the members of the class.
The Dibrot began with 14 members—13 women and one special man, Lafe Solomon. Names of classes are generally determined near the end of the two years of study and our name reflected not just our Torah portion of the Ten Commandments but the fact that we were “the talkers.” Since our 2006 b’nai mitzvah one of our classmates had left the temple community and we also, very sadly, lost our much loved Wilma Kline, who was so proudly age 80 at our b’nai mitzvah. Her daughter Sandy, as well as her dear friend Gertrude Slifkin, attended our tenth anniversary service, in recognition of both her importance to our group and its importance to her.
In preparation for the anniversary service, Janis asked each of the class members to submit a statement about motivations for joining, whether the experience had met those needs, and how it may have impacted our lives since then. The responses went far beyond the basic desire to augment an inadequate or perhaps non-existent early Jewish education. A few women had actually had a bat mitzvah at 13 (although only on Friday night and only with a Haftorah reading–no Torah), but others came from families and the Conservative Jewish establishment which at the time simply did not recognize or value bat mitzvah. Similarly, in Lafe’s case, his family had attended a classical Reform congregation which at the time eschewed traditional bar mitzvah and offered only confirmation. What everyone did express was the desire to read Hebrew (for some, more fluently) and especially to learn to read Torah. We got all that, but so very much more. We became more committed as Jews and many of us dramatically strengthened our commitment to Temple Sinai, going on to serve as committee chairs, leaders of TSWRJ and members of the temple Board. These were offerings of time and of heart. Some of us have continued our Hebrew studies and some of us when contacted by Cantor Croen to chant Torah or Haftorah at the High Holy Days, have proudly and delightedly accepted the honor. One recent year, 8 of the remaining 12 of us chanted Torah and Haftorah, recited blessings and gave other readings at the High Holy Day services. We all felt such pride, not merely as individuals but as members of our group.
But perhaps the most important gift from our b’nai mitzvah experience has been the special bonds of friendship that came with it. Ten of us, eleven when Wilma was still with us, have continued to meet all these years. Whether we watch an Israeli movie, discuss a book or temple issue, or just schmooze we do it several times a year, almost always over Sunday brunch and rotating among our homes. Many of us wrote to Janis of the poignancy of being there for each other through the many joys and sadnesses of our lives and of how comfortable and welcoming it feels to know that we will most likely find at least one classmate family member at just about any event at the temple. Our class was one of diverse ages, interests and professions but we formed a little Jewish community with a warmth that will forever connect us.
As it is written in the Mishna: Find a friend, and a teacher, and go study Torah. What a blessing it has been.