Hillel leads students into Jewish adulthood

Four local college students became Jewish adults Saturday – long after their 13th birthdays – when they read from the Torah and became bar and bat mitzvahs at GW’s Hillel.

Graduate students Marni Kupferman and Leslie Brown, sophomore Healy Sutton and Howard University student Tyrrell Jones-Eiland studied under mentors to learn about Jewish history and Judaism in preparation for their b’nai mitzvah.

Hillel Assistant Director Greg Schoefer said the program taught students Hebrew and how to read from the Torah. They also learned about Judaism and performed community service.

“Living a Jewish life is more than just rituals,” Schoefer said. He said some students continued service projects they already were working on, while others took on new tasks.

After the service, the students and their 50 to 60 guests attended a luncheon, where Hillel presented the b’nai mitzvahs with kiddish wine cups and an English version of the Torah.

Hillel Rabbi Gerry Serotta said he thought the program was a success. He commended the students for choosing to become bar and bat mitzvahs as adults and said it is more meaningful that they took the time to study Judaism this late in life.

“(It was) powerful for them and their friends that they would do this as adults,” Serotta said. “It made everybody feel wonderful.”

Sutton said she attended Hebrew school when she was younger, but having a bat mitzvah was not very important to her. She said she has become more religious since then and was glad to have a second chance.

“It means more to me than if I’d done it when I was younger,” Sutton said. “It was the final step to identify with my religion.”

Sutton said the program was great, and she hopes that more students will take advantage of it.

Rachel Light, who served as a student coordinator of the program, said the students who wished to become bar or bat mitzvahs told their mentors what they wanted to learn during the process. They were required to read a book in Hebrew and had to give a speech in the synagogue about the meaning of their assigned Torah portion.

Both Schoefer and Serotta said they plan to bar and bat mitzvah more students next fall. Schoefer said he was unsure whether there will be a ceremony once a semester or once a year. Final decisions will be made based on the number of interested students, Schoefer said.

Serotta said there are hundreds of Jewish students on the GW campus who have not been bar or bat mitzvahed, and he hoped this opportunity would interest some of them.

He said some students, who decided they were not ready to become bar mitzvahs this year, plan to have ceremonies next year.

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