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Coming of Age Ritual for Teens Finally Available to Older Adults

Students from 69-97 years old will celebrate their B’nei Mitzvah in a unique group ceremony

Woman holding up a home made Tallit

BOSTON – March 28, 2019 – On Saturday, May 11, at 3 PM, a group of 22 students ranging from 69 to 97 years old will celebrate their B’nei Mitzvah together at Temple Emanuel in Newton. The class is unique not only for the age of its celebrants, but for the size of the group, which is comprised solely of residents from all four 2Life Communities campuses: Shillman House in Framingham, Coleman House and Golda Meir House in Newton, and the sprawling Brighton campus. What’s more, 21 of the students are women!

This remarkable event is the brainchild of 2Life’s Director of Village Centers and Community Engagement, Cindy Katzeff. Two years ago, Katzeff and a rabbinic intern shepherded six older adults from Coleman House through the process of becoming B’nei Mitzvah, and it was clear that the experience filled an unmet need in the community.
This Jewish ceremony marks the beginning of adulthood, and is usually celebrated at age 12 (for girls) or 13 (for boys). But girls in the United States have only regularly been included in the ritual since the 1960s, while religious persecution historically prevented Jews from Russia and other countries from observing the milestone.

When Katzeff offered residents of all 2Life campuses the opportunity to make their B’nei Mitzvah this year, the response was overwhelming. For the women, many of whom watched their brothers and sons go through the process but were excluded themselves, it’s a chance to embrace and be fully embraced by the Jewish community.

"I want to show my granddaughters that at any time in their life, no matter their age, if there’s something they want to accomplish, they can do it," said Barbara, a resident of Golda Meir House and part of the B’nei Mitzvah class.

“I'm 70 years young, and now this means I'm going to be a real adult, and carry the weight of the mitzvah with joy. I'm very happy,” added Jael, a B’nei Mitzvah student from 2Life’s Brighton Campus who converted to Judaism.

For everyone, it’s a way to make deeper connections – to G-d, to Judaism, and to their neighbors and fellow 2Life community members. “One woman told me that after her husband passed, she was adrift. Joining this class anchored her, and helped her navigate her grief,” says Katzeff. “Another said that when she was younger, raising a family and running a household, spirituality wasn’t a priority for her. Now, it’s though she found a door inside herself that she didn’t know existed, and she’s finding deep meaning and satisfaction in exploring this side of herself.”

The B’nei Mitzvah is made possible by the Stanley and Rita J. Kaplan Foundation, which for a second year has generously funded a rabbinic intern at 2Life. This year, rabbinic intern Guilia Fleishman, from Hebrew College, has been joined by a dedicated group of volunteer tutors who are working with the students. Each member of the group has spent two to three hours a week studying, both together and independently, since last September. On the big day, some will give d’var Torot, short sermons about the Bible portion for the day. Others will read or chant from the Torah, offer blessings over bread and wine, and join in other aspects of the ritual. All will be seated together on the bimah (pulpit), wearing prayer shawls they made for this special day.

Family and friends are traveling from all over the country to witness this event, and 2Life will be busing residents from all of our campuses to join in the celebration. The ceremony is open to the public, and attendees are asked to refrain from photography and video recording in respect for the observance of the Sabbath. For interested members of the media, there will be a full dress rehearsal on Tuesday, April 30, when the laws of the Sabbath will not apply.

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2Life Communities, a nonprofit organization founded in 1965, operates on the belief that all seniors should have the opportunity to live a full life of connection and purpose in a dynamic, supportive environment – a model we call aging in community, which directly combats the growing public health crisis of social isolation and loneliness amongst older adults.

At 2Life Communities, residents can step out the doors of their own apartments and find friendship, community, physical and intellectual stimulation, and a helping hand day or night. Serving a diverse population of 1,500 older adults, 2Life creates communities with a laser sharp focus on affordability – a tremendous concern given that Massachusetts is the state with the 2nd largest gap in the U.S. between seniors’ median income and the cost of living.