On August 17, 2019, Shabbat Nachamu, women of the Mt. Freedom Jewish Center community will gather to chant all of Parshat Vaetchanan and to support each other in this important and new spiritual direction at MTFJC, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Morris County, New Jersey.
A bit of history. As Rabbi Menashe East of MTFJC explains, a few years ago a number of women, in particular member Darsi Beauchamp, were interested in having an adult bat mitzvah. At the time this was an unusual request. The program was opened up to the entire community and ultimately, eight women who had never read from the Torah and who had varied backgrounds of Jewish and Hebrew learning, shared that experience on Shabbat Nachamu. It was a remarkable moment in the history of the Mt. Freedom Jewish Center because it was the first adult bat mitzvah class in the synagogue’s 90 plus years. At the time, many of the participants reflected on the daunting nature of the bat mitzvah journey they had committed to the year before.
Audrey Silverberg, member and a bat mitzvah, observed, “There were times when I did not think I could go all the way through with it. It was the other women and their perseverance that helped me. The support from our special MTFJC community was a blessing.”
“There were times when I did not think I could go all the way through with it. It was the other women and their perseverance that helped me.
“We chose that Shabbat because seeing the Torah live in our community is consoling,” East adds.
That was 2016.
Since then MTFJC has been living up to its mission to “integrate Jewish tradition, law and spirit with contemporary life, and through education, social action and social activities, meet the needs of our larger Jewish community.” It has created additional opportunities for more women to take a leadership role in laining at other occasions during the Jewish year, such as Megillah Esther on Purim, other megillot, and on other holidays such as Simchat Torah.
To Rabbi East this is a very important practice at the synagogue that gained momentum with the first adult bat mitzvah class. “We hope to encourage more women to take a leadership role, to inspire other women and to deepen the spiritual experience in our community.” He has revived this Shabbat Nachamu experience “as a conscious effort to encourage women’s engagement in ritual life more robustly and more regularly throughout the year.” For example, Darsi Beauchamp who organized the initial bat mitzvah group, continues to learn and lead. She gives Divrei Torah, teaches classes during Shavuot, and reads from the megillot on holidays. Darsi’s goals of “continuing to get closer to G-d by studying Torah, Talmud, taking classes and reading Torah” are fulfilling in her personal growth within Judaism and assists in the spiritual growth of her synagogue community.
Gathering together in MTFJC’s Baum Hall at 10 am, some of the readers will be women from that first bat mitzvah class and lainers who have read before on other holidays. The readers include Darsi Beauchamp, Janet Cohen, Lauren Cooper, Paula Czeisler, Donna Amdur East, Marsha Hoch, Sherry Pollack, Helen Schwartz and Audrey Silverberg.
On this anniversary of their Bat Mitzvah, Beauchamp and many of the original group members, along with Rabbi East, in a partnership between MTFJC, Family Promise and other local agencies, are organizing a fundraiser to serve 500 needy homeless people in several tent cities.
As for Janet Cohen, a member of that first bat mitzvah class and a reader on August 17, the process of preparing for that first Torah reading was “daunting, but amazing. When I was asked to read this year, my first reaction was, Oy Vey. Not again! But as I began to practice and learn again I remembered how magical it was, and why I am willing to put in the many hours it takes.”
The community is welcome to join Rabbi East, the Parshat Vaetchanan readers and the entire congregation for this special, uplifting Shabbat. For more information, visit the synagogue’s website www.mtfjc.org or contact David in the office at 973-895-2100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Anne Beacken is a longtime member of Mount Freedom Jewish Center community.
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