The DJ is playing traditional Jewish music. The room is decorated with streamers and balloons. The refreshments are plentiful and look delicious. Sign-in boards display pictures of the guests of honor. Hundreds of girls dance in a big circle with friends and family joining in.
It’s a great party. But what makes it so special?
This party is celebrating the bnot mitzvah of two women in their 90s. Yes, you just read that correctly. Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck played host to this unique celebration as Mitzi Krampf and Ruth Weiss, who live at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, were “bat mitzvahed.”
The bat mitzvah was the brainchild of Ma’ayanot seniors Michal Rosenfeld and Shira Rothwachs of Teaneck and Yonina Segal of Manhattan. As part of their Senior Encounter program, which requires students to take on a project that is presented to the teachers, the three students wanted to do something with real meaning. “In years past, the school has hosted bat mitzvahs for girls who either couldn’t afford a bat mitzvah or came from unaffiliated families, this year we wanted to do something a little different,” Yonina said. The girls got in touch with Sunni Herman, the Jewish Home’s executive vice president. “We asked Mrs. Herman to specifically find us someone who hadn’t had a bat mitzvah, and she found us these two very special women,” Yonina said.
“This was all the girls’ idea,” Ms. Herman said. “And this went beyond just the glitz and glam of a party. It wasn’t just about hair and makeup.”
Orthodox bat mitzvahs differ from bar mitzvahs in that the young women don’t read from the Torah. Instead, many girls choose to learn something of significance. In this instance, the Ma’ayanot seniors picked the topic of challah to learn with the honorees.
“The girls learned with Mitzie and Ruth,” Ms. Herman said. “They studied the mitzvah of challah and then baked challah with them as part of the experience. As a bat mitzvah gift, the girls presented Mitzie and Ruth with electric Shabbos candles that they can light in their room.
“The word ‘bat’ means daughter and everyone is somebody’s daughter. Age is not a factor in becoming a bat mitzvah.”
This program was just one example of the relationship that Ma’ayanot has with the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, she continued. “This is what young Jewish women should be doing — helping better the lives of others.”
Ruth Weiss was born in McKeesport, Penn., near Pittsburgh, and Mitzie Krampf comes from Brooklyn. Both women were excited to be a part of the bat mitzvah. “It just wasn’t something we did back then,” Ms. Krampf said. “I was the youngest of six children and just never had a bat mitzvah. But now, “the girls told me to get dressed in my nicest gown — and here I am.” Ms. Krampf, who has lived in the Jewish Home for three years, also has been the home’s prom queen and acted in some of its dramatic productions.
Both women had friends from Rockleigh join them at their celebration.
Rabbi Shimon Feld, the chaplain of the Jewish Home, was especially impressed by the Ma’ayanot seniors’ program. “In all of my years being involved with the elderly, I have never seen a yeshiva invite residents to their school for a bat mitzvah,” he said. “The mitzvah that focuses on the elderly is only mentioned once in the Torah because it is so important. It is the elderly who connects the generations.”
The entire school was invited to celebrate this special occasion. Sophie Lerer of Teaneck, a sophomore, said, “We really take for granted how we all had bat mitzvah parties. When I learned about these women, and how they never had the opportunity to celebrate this milestone with their families when they were younger, it really made me appreciate what I have and how I was able to have a bat mitzvah.” Eliana Wagner of Englewood, a junior, said, “I love that we get to be a part of this special mitzvah. Having things like this is just one of the reason why Ma’ayanot is such a special place.”
The three students who initiated this event left no detail unturned. They began with the ladies having their hair and make up done. Kruter Photography donated its services and took pictures with the bat-mitzvah women and their families. Kenny Yager and Elliot Rosenfeld donated the refreshments for the collation, Ma’ayanot senior Dina Jawetz of Teaneck created a beautiful cake, and Jeff Neckenoff of Azamra DJ donated his time to make sure the music was perfect and the dancing was kept lively.
Every bat mitzvah must have a montage, so this bat mitzvah was no exception. The girls put together a moving collection of photos, and both Ms. Krampf and Ms. Weiss were able to share their sentiments about the occasion on video. “I was not as fortunate to have a bat mitzvah when I was younger,” Ms. Weiss said. “But I truly thank you for giving me the chance to have this special simcha now.”