This is the 30th anniversary of Temple Sinai’s first B’not Mitzvah class. Rabbi Mindy Portnoy was our teacher. Eleven people participated in the ceremony on November 13, 1993. All five of the “alums” of that class who live in the DC Metro area celebrated our anniversary at the Kehillat Shabbat service on December 2, 2023.
This group is sometimes referred to as HaTzon after the prominence and frequency of sheep in the Torah portion for our B’not Mitzvah (Vayetze , Genesis: 28:10 -32:3). Jan Kaufman recalls specifically that while practicing the Torah portions, each of us kept getting stuck on the Hebrew word for sheep, HaTzon, which appears multiple times in our portion. Rabbi Portnoy finally couldn’t take it anymore and said something like “How can you not know this word yet?!!!” And the name stuck.
We were the first Adult B’not Mitzvah class at Temple Sinai. (Actually, we were a B’nei Mitzvah class for a while until our two male class members chose not to participate in the ceremony.) But we didn’t start out planning to have a Bat Mitzvah. We were part of a Hebrew class at the temple that was taught in part by Rabbi Mindy Portnoy. At some point, Rabbi Portnoy raised the idea of having an Adult Bat Mitzvah and in pretty short order, several of the class members morphed the Hebrew class into a B’nei Mitzvah class.
We met for approximately 3 years with Rabbi Portnoy as our principal teacher and leader for Judaica, Torah, and Haftarah study, along with a stream of Hebrew teachers who supplemented her teaching on our Torah portions. Mindy was not only our teacher and leader, but also our supporter, inspiration, and friend throughout this adventure. As we got close to the finish, there was a sense of relatedness we’d come to over the many months we’d met. It felt as if we didn’t want to stop readings and discussions. Mindy suggested we meet as an informal book group. And, in fact, for more than 20 years, we continued to meet as a monthly book club concentrating on scores of books by Jewish authors that covered Jewish themes, culture, religion, and other related subjects.
Complete with her 3 x 5 cards, articles, and pages of notes on yellow legal pads, Rabbi Portnoy was the supportive guide, the glue — and sometimes the referee — who kept us reading and coming together over those 21 years. A lot of learning and a lot of laughing occurred during those sessions. We are forever grateful for and appreciative of Rabbi Portnoy. Thank you.