Off the 8’s: Completing the circle, a ‘marathon for the soul’

Paula Wolfson shares her journey of completing the circle of her faith. In two years she will have a Bat Mitzvah. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

Editor’s Note: Off the 8’s is a new WTOP Living feature, in which staff inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center share stories from their lives when they’re off the clock.

WASHINGTON – We may share a name, but I have to admit I never felt any real connection to Paula Abdul. That is, until now.

I was in the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center when I first learned that she was planning a Bat Mitzvah. A smile spread across my face as I heard the news, and I felt a special kinship.

It turns out this Paula is also studying to complete a circle, and make a long-delayed rite of passage a reality.

In May 2015, if all goes according to plan, I will finally get my chance. Long after I graduated from tween, to teen, to adulthood, I am going to fulfill a dream. I will chant a portion of the ancient Torah, wear a prayer shawl embroidered by my mother and join generations of other Jewish women in a ritual of commitment.

Now some folks might wonder: Why would a sane, grown woman commit to two years of study and countless hours of practice for what might be considered a symbolic event?

Technically, all Jewish kids automatically become Bar or Bat Mitzvah at 13 (for boys) or 12 1/2 (for girls) — no ceremony needed. So why deal with all the time and hassles required to go through the ritual as an adult?

They are complicated questions, and as with anything dealing with faith, there are complicated answers as well.

Truth is, I missed out on the ceremony as a kid because my family moved when I was 12 and the young congregation we joined, though very egalitarian in other ways, did not yet offer Bat Mitzvahs.

As an adult, I have felt an increasing need to fill in the missing link. We all have important rituals in our lives. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, anniversaries and occasions joyous and sad. This is the ritual I need to complete me.

It is also for my 87-year-old mother, who says she intends to be front and center for my B’nai Torah — the term my synagogue, Temple Micah, uses for the ceremony for adults.

And it is for my grandmother — my beloved Nana — who always told me to question, pray and thrive.

Others in my B’nai Torah class have their own reasons for enduring two years of weekly lessons in preparation for our joint appearance before the congregation and assorted friends and family.

Unlike me, some grew up with no religious background at all and discovered their faith as young adults. Others are converts. And there are a few who want to do it for their kids.

But I love the idea put forward by one 20-something in the group. She wants to cross having a Bat Mitzvah off her bucket list.

I can relate to that one.

I can also relate to my sometime study partner, Stephanie. As we sit in class and go over lines of Hebrew letters — gingerly treading through territory we first encountered as children in religious school — we also talk about the grown or soon-to-be-grown kids in our lives.

And strangely enough, once we have practiced our Aleph Bet (that’s basically Hebrew for our “ABCs”), we talk marathons.

I’ve run two

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