Synagogue celebrates adult B'nai Mitzvah

COURTESY PHOTOEtz Hayim Synagogue in Derry celebrated an adult B'nai Mitzvah on Dec. 28, welcoming a class of adults wishing to accomplish this rite of passage. From left, are Ray Morton-Ewbank, Connie Morton-Ewbank, Midge Goldberg, Stephanie Kuligowski, Martha Tomanelli, Adam Barvenik, Rabbi Peter Levy, Beverly Barvenik, Nancy Rotkowitz, Jody Terry, Marcy McWilliam, and Leslie Kirshman.

DERRY — At a time in their lives when they found themselves reflecting on their place in Judaism, a group of adults finally embarked on a journey to become B'nai Mitzvah.

Etz Hayim Synagogue in Derry hosted a class for adults hoping to accomplish this rite of passage.

A celebration was held Dec. 28 with 11 participants being honored surrounded by family and friends.

When Etz Hayim Rabbi Peter Levy offered the class, these class members signed on to explore the possibility of performing the mitzvah that most Jews achieve at age 13.

"Most in the class were women who did not have the option of becoming a Bat Mitzvah at age 13," Levy said, adding he felt it was his own mitzvah to offer the class and was delighted so many responded.

Participants included a couple of the Episcopalian faith wanting to learn Hebrew and understand more about Judaism.

Over a period of 15 months, the class not only learned to read Hebrew but expanded into liturgy and prayer, immersing themselves in parsing and dissecting their Torah portion.

Connie and Ray Morton-Ewbank, congregants at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration right next door to Etz Hayim on Hood Road, participated in the class.

The synagogue and Episcopal church have held a long and unique interfaith relationship of learning.

Connie attempted to learn Hebrew on her own and jumped at the opportunity to join the class. As the rest of the group continued to prepare to become B'nai Mitzvah, Connie and Ray stayed on.

"We got to learn about the beautiful, meaningful Hebrew and English prayers and be part of planning a special service with our newfound friends," Connie said.

The class had deep significance for many participants who had a wide variety of Jewish experiences.

Nancy Rotkowitz was born a Jew but was baptized and raised Christian after her parents divorced.

"This is full circle for me, coming home to Judaism," she said.

Martha Tomanelli's mother was Jewish.

"My mother always brought me to her parents' home to visit every week," Tomanelli said, adding although she was surrounded by Jewish influence throughout her life, she never became a Bat Mitzvah and wanted to be as close to her true identity as possible.

"I am so happy I found my home at Etz Haym," Tomanelli said.

Other members, including Jody Terry, Stephanie Kuligowski and Adam Barvenik, also had family influences through the years.

Terry was brought up knowing she was Jewish but was non-practicing and raised her own children with out religion.

"When my children went to college, they become interested in Judaism," she said, adding one daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem while on a birthright trip and her other daughter is planning the same.

Terry started the journey to join them in the tradition that she wishes she had done in her early years.

"Who says we can't learn from our children?" Terry asked.

Kuligowski converted to Judaism several years ago and called the Etz Hayim class "a gift," and Barvenik, the youngest of the class members, shared the experience with his mother Beverly Barvenik, who enjoys learning and studying and thought it would be nice to do the class with her son.

Each student also created a d'var Torah offering their own unique perspectives as Jewish adults.

"I joined in the class because I never truly felt comfortable in my Jewish skin," said participant Marcy McWilliam. "I wanted the ability to sit in a temple and know and understand both Hebrew and Jewish spirituality."

At the celebration last month, the group of adults rededicated themselves to Judaism enveloped by the love of 140 friends and family members.

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