When Bar/Bat Mitzvah Loses Meaning By Rabbi Janet Marder Reform Judaism, Winter 1992
Can a custom that, in some communities, has been hijacked by the forces of materialism return to its simple and dignified religious origins?
She is a professional party planner in a large city. "I do maybe 75 bar or bat mitzvahs a year," she says. After 13 years in the business, she has seen everything. "People are spending between $100 and $200 per person for the receptionanywhere from 10 to 50 thousand dollars, though last January I did one for $90,000. Everyone has a theme: Broadway, outer space, 'barn mitzvah' (a barbecue hoedowm).
"We've had all kinds of entertainment, from stagecoach rides and fire eaters to candymakers who do caramel sculptures. We have belly dancers, break dancers, and celebrity lookalikes. And, of course, there's Robbie the Robot, who's programmed for witty repartee with the guests ('Aunt Berthahow are things in Miami? And how's Uncle Ed?').
"Let's face it, it's a production. I'm in the simchah business."
Last May the UAHC Board of Trustees decided the "simchah business" had gone too far. In a resolution written by Rabbi Herbert Bronstein of North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe, IL the board declared that, "due to excessive and inappropriate celebration, bar/bat mitzvah has become an occasion for idolatry and the relentless commercial colonization of our sacred events."
Adopted unanimously, the resolution decries "excesses of wasteful consumption...glitzy theme events, sophisticated entertainment...and expensive party favors." It calls on the UAHC to promote bar/bat mitzvah celebrations characterized by "family cohesion, authentic friendship, acts oftzedakah and parties suitable for children." Committing the UAHC to publish a Reform guide to bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, the resolution also encourages congregations to set their own guidelines.
The resolution has struck a responsive chord among rabbis, particularly in large urban congregations, where the problem seems most acute. Rabbis of these synagogues speak with embarrassment and anger about overblown celebrations that may cost $100,000 or more, and each has a horror story to cite, such as the bat mitzvah with table centerpieces showing photos of the girl with shopping bags from expensive boutiques. "I've seen every theme except human sacrifice," comments one rabbi. Says another, "What's wrong with the real theme of bar mitzvah: Jewish commitment?"
The issue is not new in the Jewish community. In 1964, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a similar resolution, and both statements are in the tradition of "sumptuary laws" by which medieval rabbis tried to limit the extent of communal celebrations.
The Reform attitude toward bar/bat mitzvah was addressed by the CCAR Responsa Committee in 1979. It stated, in part: "Every effort should be exerted to maintain the family festivities in the religious mood at the bar/bat mitzvah. Some of the efforts of early Reform in favor of confirmation against bar mitzvah were prompted by the extravagant celebration of bar mitzvah, which had removed its primary religious significance. We vigorously oppose such excesses, as they destroy the meaning of bar/bar mitzvah."
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner of Congregation Beth El, Sudbury, MA sees powerful forces at work in these opulent celebrations. "Nowadays people in our culture marry and have children later than they used to. So when their kids reach bar/bat mitzvah age the grandparents are older, closer to death. Also, the parents are richer. The parties are by invitation only; they're planned many months in advance. Many of the guests have arrived at the party by airplane at enormous expense. Thus, all the circumstances that once prevailed at weddings now prevail at bar/bat mitzvah time. The desire for a major celebration is very strong and deeply rooted. We can't stop people from feeling this way; we just have to find a way to channel the feelings constructively."
Some Reform Jews wonder what the fuss is all about. Says one parent, "They can pass any resolutions they want. The truth is that he's our only child and the only grandchild in the family, and we wanted to have a big party."
One mother, who says the bar mitzvah receptions for her two sons were "exceptionally elaboratemore so than for our daughter, because we won't be making a wedding for our sons"has mixed feelings about the UAHC resolution. "On the one hand, I think I feel in my gut that these receptions have gotten out of hand. On the other hand, I don't think they should be passing a resolution about this; it seems a little out of bounds. How you celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah seems pretty much a matter of individual taste."
Others reply that the issue is not just the cost of the celebration. "Spending a lot of money doesn't necessarily make for a vulgar affair," says Rabbi John Moscowitz of Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto, "and having a luncheon for 300 people is not the same as hiring a baseball player or a stripper to perform."
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin of Central Synagogue, Rockville Centre, NY comments, "It's not what you spendit's what you give. A $25,000 bar mitzvah that includes a substantial donation to a charitable organization is morally and Jewishly preferable to a more modest affair where no tzedakah is given." Salkin, author of Putting God on the Guest List: How To Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah, suggests that the question is not whether celebrations are done "in good taste" but whether they reflect Jewish values. "We have to distinguish aesthetics from the ethical issues."
What, then, are some of the ethical issues to consider? A recent statement of the Toronto Board of Rabbis asserts that, while Jewish tradition mandates joyful celebrations for weddings and bar mitzvahs, it condemns "excesses of gluttony." Moreover, the "exorbitant expenditure of funds... encourages [those] who cannot afford it to try to emulate their...neighbors, with disaster the inevitable result." Though such cases are clearly the exception rather than the rule, rabbis around the country confirm that they occur. "I've had congregants in my office literally crying because they'd taken out a second mortgage in order to afford a big bar mitzvah bash," says one. "They say, 'Of course, rabbi, this is not what we wanted, but we can't embarrass our child in front of his friends.'"
In addition to the financial strain caused by "keeping up with the Kohnses," some Jewish leaders worry that children are psychologically harmed by the intense social pressures they face. "Kids live in dread of having a party that's boring," says Rabbi Elizabeth Singer of Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY. "They feel a strong need to do something uniqueand that gets harder and harder if there's a bar/bat mitzvah every week." One child echoed this concern: "I knew I couldn't give a party like everyone else; we couldn't afford it. I was afraid people would make fun of my party and say it was a bomb. You know how kids are."
Many children expect a big celebration party. Says one boy, "After you do the ceremony you've worked so hard for, it's nice to get rewarded with a really great party."
Disruptive Behavior Rabbis and laypeople alike also complain of the rude and disruptive behavior that sometimes accompanies elaborate b'nai mitzvah receptions. "At receptions in our temple building we've had vandalism, usually by kids not affiliated with our congregation," says Rabbi Ben Kamin of The Temple-Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, OH. "In their minds there's no separation between the holy and the profane; it really breaks my heart."
Carrie Parks, a member of North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL, sent out letters to 100 kids after disruptive behavior turned her carefully planned bat mitzvah reception into a nightmare. "I know my rabbi thinks that big parties are a problem, but I have to disagree. I don't think the parties are the problem. When I was growing up, I went to fabulous bar mitzvahs at fancy hotels, just as we have today. But we were well-behaved then. We would never think of running through hotel lobbies on a rampage. The real problem is that too many kids aren't learning to respect the religious nature of the celebration."
A related problem is alcohol abuse among minors at such simchahs, says Fern Barishman, director of the Alcohol Drug Action Program of Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles. "So often when I talk to clients about when they started drinking, they tell me it all began at their bar mitzvah or that of a friend. Kids think bar/bat mitzvah is about becoming a man or a woman and that makes drinking okay. When adults are out on the dance floor, I see kids drinking what's left in their glasses, pouring liquor into soda bottles. Why not make b'nai mitzvah alcohol-safe events? Maybe families could have a bar where people pay for their drinks, rather than an open bar, and they could then donate the money to Mothers Against Drunk Driving."
Who Owns the Service? Many rabbis speak regretfully of the "privatization" of bar/bat mitzvah, noting that almost all of those attending a Shabbat morning service when a bar or bat mitzvah takes place are guests invited by the family. When congregants not invited by the family do show up at such services, they often express discomfort, feeling that they are not welcome in the synagogue without an invitation. Some b'nai mitzvah families object to the scheduling of congregational events such as baby namings during "their" service. "I have to remind them," says one rabbi, "that it's not their serviceit's God's."
Some rabbis are convinced that allowing families to create personalized bar/bat mitzvah liturgies and having the child conduct the entire service subverts the very meaning of the event by turning the worshipers into onlookers at one family's private pageant. "I think the proper way for a child to become bar or bat mitzvah is in the embrace of the congregation, and that can happen only in a congregational service," says Rabbi Dov Taylor of Temple Solel, Highland Park, IL. A Southern California rabbi puts it this way: "The real issue is who owns the service? The ceremony is about welcoming a child into the congregationnot having a child take over the congregation for a day."
That message is conveyed at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada, where b'nai mitzvah do not deliver speeches but simply read from the Torah and Haftarah, and at Beth El in Sudbury, MA, where two aliyot are always reserved for congregants not invited by the bar/bat mitzvah family.
Other rabbis are not disturbed by the unabashedly private nature of most bar/bat mitzvah services. Rabbi Ben Kamin of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland says, "Our services are very personalized and extremely meaningful to families." He and others encourage b'nai mitzvah to conduct as much of the service as possible, believing that the ability to lead prayer is an essential skill for young Jews to master.
Most rabbis wrestle uneasily with the dilemma of how to make bar/bat mitzvah services meaningful to families without undermining the public nature of Shabbat worship. Many have tried to resolve the tension between private and public needs by developing alternate minyanim and/or Torah study groups that meet every Shabbat morning.
The "Drop-Out" Phenomenon Reform leaders have long viewed bar mitzvah with some ambivalence, primarily because it so often has resulted in a child's premature graduation from Jewish education. This concern, among others, led to the creation of the confirmation ceremony, which by the middle of the 20th century had superseded bar mitzvah in many Reform congregations. Nevertheless, the "drop-out" phenomenon continues to trouble rabbis in congregations of all sizes; today about half of all Jewish children end their religious education after bar/bat mitzvah.
The cessation of learning at this age is particularly disturbing because bar/bat mitzvah is not, contrary to popular opinion, the age of maturity but the age of religious commitment. Writes Herbert Bronstein: "At the time when one is celebrating this observance, whose meaning is 'I take on the responsibilities of being a Jew,' central to which...is the study of Torah, for parents to allow their children simply to...walk away from their religious education makes a mockery of bar/bat mitzvah...no matter how effusively it is celebrated."
Bar/bat mitzvah is now celebrated in some 96% of Reform congregations. Clearly, the notion of a child's coming of age at 13 has a powerful hold on the Jewish psyche. But can a custom that, in some communities, has been hijacked by the forces of materialism return to its simple and dignified religious origins? Can a service too often focused on showing off a child's Hebrew performance before an "audience" of invited guests recapture the sense of congregational worship and communal embrace? And can a day that for half of our children represents their farewell to Jewish study be transformed instead into a moment that genuinely initiates them into a lifetime of mitzvot?
The UAHC Board of Trustees resolution on bar/bat mitzvah, while only a beginning, is a gesture of hope that such change is possible. "It's easy for the board to pass resolutions," says its chairman, Mel Merians. "The real question is what impact this resolution will haveand that depends on how seriously and sensitively we undertake the responsibility of educating our people."
To implement the resolution, the Commission on Religious Living has appointed a special subcommittee chaired by Rabbi Alan Bregman, which is in the process of developing suggested guidelines and procedures for conducting bar and bat mitzvah celebrations with dignity and sensitivity. In 1990, the CCAR published "Divrei Benei Mitzvah," a guideline for rabbis working with bar/bat mitzvah families.
Even rabbis serving communities they describe as "centers of wretched excess" believe the resolution will be warmly welcomed by many congregants. While the recession has had a significant impact on the scale of celebrations, there has also been, says one Long Island rabbi, "a quiet revolution against glitz. More people are turning away in disgust from the excesses of the '80s."
Rabbi Jerome Davidson of Temple Beth El, Great Neck, NY, who has spoken extensively on this issue, believes "the time is ripe for change. Our people are waiting for their leaders to stand up for Jewish values. It remains to be seen whether temple leaders will change the way they celebrate, for, after all, they set the tone." Beth El already imposes limits on the kind of music, decorations, and entertainment permitted for bar/bat mitzvah receptions held in the synagogue.
Other synagogues, fearing loss of income, may hesitate to impose guidelines that will encourage members to hold their celebrations elsewhere. "The great danger," says one rabbi, "is that we're simply going to be perceived as prudes and killjoys who want to take the fun out of bar/bat mitzvah."
Some argue, however, that the true joy of bar/bat mitzvah does not inhere in the merchandising gimmicks that now sully the occasion. One can have a genuine simchah, they maintain, without turning it into a business. Authentic bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, says Rabbi Herbert Bronstein, "are gatherings which will be remembered not by a show of abundance but for the abundance of good feeling the celebrants have for one another."
[JANET MARDER] Rabbi Janet Marder is associate regional director of the UAHC Pacific Southwest Council on Los Angeles, CA.
MODEL BAR/BAT MITZVAH PROGRAMS
What are synagogues doing to lower their dropout rate? Some have worked diligently to develop outstanding high school programs. Beth Israel of San Diego, CA offers a two-year post-bar/bat mitzvah program to train religious school teachers. Others, such as Temple B'nai Jeshurun of Des Moines, IA, retain 80% of their b'nai mitzvah by working with Federation to offer incentives such as community-subsidized trips to Israel and Washington, D.C.
A number of congregational programs have shifted the focus of b'nai mitzvah from a one-time "performance" to a process of growing into lifelong Jewish commitment. Several synagogues, such as Shir HaMa'alot in Newport Beach, CA and Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, MS, require all b'nai mitzvah to take on a tzedakah project. At Sinai Temple in Springfield, MA, bar/bat mitzvah students must complete two projectsone for the synagogue and one for the community. B'nai mitzvah in these congregations often ask their guests to make charitable donations in lieu of gifts.
In an effort to involve parents as well as children. Temple Beth Am of Miami has established a bar/bat mitzvah tzedakah collectivea fund supported by all b'nai mitzvah families, who decide together where to donate the money. And Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, OH encourages parents to set up a tzedakah fund in honor of their child's bar or bat mitzvah; the child distributes the annual interest to the charity of his/her choice.
While serving Congregation Shir Chadash in Los Gatos, CA, Rabbi Nahum Ward developed the Family Torah Study program to involve parents and children preparing for bar/bat mitzvah in ongoing Jewish learning. Participants and the rabbi meet as a havurah (prayer or study group) every three weeks for a potluck dinner and inter-generational discussion of each Torah portion, led by the child studying that portion. The strong sense of fellowship that develops among the families has helped ensure that very few students drop out before confirmation.
Especially notable are the comprehensive "mitzvah programs" such as the one developed at Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, NY; Central Synagogue in Rockville Centre, NY; and Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, OH. All are organized on the "merit badge" system, by which bar/bat mitzvah students are required to perform tasks in certain categories and thus to learn by doing. Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of Larchmont Temple, for instance, organized his "Bemitzvotav" program around the themes of Torah (Jewish learning), Avodah (Jewish living), and Gemilut Hasadim (Jewish doing).
At Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple the program is patterned after the famous Mishnah which begins: "These are the obligations without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure" and lists 10 categories of mitzvot (Honor your mother and father; Attend the synagogue regularly; Welcome the stranger; etc.), including 5-20 ways a child can perform each one.
Similarly, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin's "10 to Get Ready" program at Central Synagogue in Rockville Center, NY includes mitzvah categories such as memory, the sanctity of speech, and kindness to animals. Salkin explains that he originally developed the program for children with learning disabilities "in order to put the emphasis back on mitzvah rather than Torah-reading performance."
BAR/BAT MITZVAH HEROES
For the past two years I've been collecting two kinds of bar/bat mitzvah invitationsthe ones so glossy they are blinding, and, thankfully, the ones that have down-to-earth ethical content. The individuals who are sending the second kind either ask guests to bring to the reception clothing or food for donation to a shelter or a food pantry, or, in lieu of presents, ask family and friends to donate funds to specific tzedakah projects.
Here are some of my favorites:
Sarah Epstein of Winnetka, IL asked her guests to "...prepare bag lunches and help us to distribute them from 10:00 until noon on Sunday, November 22nd, on the corner of Halsted and Madison."
Ariela Freedman of Rochester, MN invited her guests to donate to Jerusalem's Alyn Orthopaedic Hospital and the Special Olympics in Israel.
Julie Hurst of Boca Raton, FL sent out invitations on the back of a JNF tree certificate. A tree was planted in Israel in honor of each guest.
Yonatan Koch of New Milford, CT, who has learning disabilities, enclosed a reproduced hand-written note with his invitation saying what it means to be a mensch and to honor him with donations. "...It would make me feel good if I could influence you to do tzedakah. Together we make the world a better place."
And Brian Siff of Omaha, NE designed his own greeting cards, asking that donations be made to Temple Israel's education fund to benefit Boys Town. He also donated a portion of his bar mitzvah money to the cause.
The invitations of these mitzvah heroes reflect fine moments in American Jewish life. These young people are part of a growing trend; they should be encouraged as we American Jews begin to distance ourselves from the consumerism of the '80s.
As a mitzvah-hero tracker, there is an additional trend I am watching: the adult bar or bat mitzvah who commits admirable acts of tzedakah. My favorite is Julie Grant Meyer of New Orleans, LA, who explained in her invitation that she wanted to take the secular American event of turning forty and make it Jewish. So she attached to her bat mitzvah invitation a note asking people to bring a nice piece of clothing to the event at Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, LA, to be donated to homeless people. She also asked them to bring at least one can of food. "By sharing our bounty," she wrote, "we may save a life. 'To sustain a single human soul is equivalent to sustaining an entire world.'"
My most valuable lesson was...
"Most important was the opportunity to become a literate Jew so I could fully participate in my Judaism. Being able to read, understand, and have access to the Torah pushed me beyond my previous level of involvement and opened up an entirely new dimension of Judaism for me."
Julie Grant Meyer Touro Synagogue, New Orleans
"By symbolically sharing my bat mitzvah with Diana Avner of Kiev and asking my family and friends to later join me in feeding the homeless, the service and all it entailed gave me a sense of pride, leadership, and accomplishment."
Sarah Epstei Congregation Am Shalom, Glencoe, IL
"I learned that helping others is no a chore. It is a reward."
Ariela Freedman Temple B'nai Israel Rochester, MN
"Leading the congregation in prayer and giving cans of food to the hungry made my bat mitzvah special to me."
Julie Hurst Temple Beth El, Boca Raton, FL
"The most important thing about my bar mitzvah was when I shared my learning disability. Believing in yourself is very important and people shouldn't let their problems stop them from achieving their goals."
Yonatan Koch Temple Sholom, New Milford, CT
"Most important was the meaning of my bar mitzvahcommitment to Judaism."
Brian Siff Temple Israel, Omaha, NE
[DANNY SIEGEL] Danny Siegel is an author, lecturer, and poet, and founder and chairman of Ziv Tzedakah Fund in Rockville, MD.
Think of all the junk cluttering your medicine cabinettoothpaste samples, miniature bars of hotel soap, shampoo, and shower caps. Instead of letting these perfectly good supplies go to waste, why not do what 13-year-old Elana Erdstein didbring them to soup kitchens, drug rehab centers, and women's shelters.
The impetus for Elana's innovative project came from her synagogue, Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, Michigan, where Rabbi Lane Steinger encourages youngsters to engage in socially responsible community projects as part of of their bar/bat mitzvah training. In November 1991, Elana was visiting her grandmother, Lillian Maltzer, and noticed a basket overflowing with samples of soaps, towels, shampoo, and other personal items Maltzer had collected on her many travels.
Arriving home, Elana began to think about all other travellers across America who probably had similar supplies stowed away in forgotten corners of their homes. Not only that, but what about the hotel chains and supply houses themselvessurely they had extra samples and overstock they would love to get off their hands.
Elana got busily to work, writing letters to local hotels and corporations, asking them to send her their leftover goods. "At the beginning, she thought if she tried hard, she'd get maybe 1,000 pieces," says Elana's mother, Janice Erdstein. "She had no way of anticipating the tremendous response."
Supplies poured in. Avon distributors dropped off makeup and lotions. Estee Lauder sent perfumes. Holiday Inn and Mariott hotels sent toiletries, Colgate and OralB provided toothbrushes and toothpaste. Elana set up collection boxes in her local library, Jewish Community Center, synagogue, and churches, where residents could drop off unused and unwanted items.
By the time of her bat mitzvah this past May 23, Elana had collected some 25,000 itemseverything from hair coloring to shaving cream, useful supplies she has donated to her neighbors in need.
Once or twice a week, mother and daughter pick up donated goods, clean and sort the items, and deliver them to a local home for troubled teens, a battered women's shelter, and a homeless center, creating a socially conscious recycling chain. Soaps, sewing kits, nail files, shoe polish, towels, baby lotion, deodorant, aspirin, facial tissue: the items most of us don't think twice about, yet are desperately needed by so many people.
In the beginning, Elana asked people wherever she went to donate their leftover personal items. When she went to get a haircut, her hairdresser handed over his cache of ash-blonde hair coloring. "We took it to Yad Ezra, a Detroit kosher food bank," Janice Erdstein recalls. "Now there are a lot of elderly Jewish women there with ash-blonde hair!"
Elana's dentist put her in touch with his supplier, who delivered a large quantity of toothbrushes and paste right to her door. Then the supplier called her, and said, "Now that you've cleaned me out of my supplies, I think you should have the opportunity to do the same to my competitors." He invited the young girl to a dental convention, where she presented her project from the podium and was loaded down on the spot with brushes and floss galore.
One particularly moving donation was a collection of unused, slightly out-of-date men's personal care supplies, dropped off with a little note written in spidery handwriting, "My husband died three months ago. These things have been in my medicine cabinet making me sad. Thank you for giving me a way to be happy again." There was no signature.
Says Elana: "I learned that you can buy caviar with food stamps, but not toothpaste. I learned that mouthwash has three times the alcohol content of wine, so shelters can't accept it. Most of all, I learned that one person, even one person who can't drive yet and only has an allowance and babysitting money to spend, can make a difference. You do need a Mom to drive, though!"
Elana's story has been covered by local newspapers and broadcast media. The Erdstein family even had ABC camera crews poking through their basement one afternoon. The teenager hopes that by publicizing her story, she can encourage others her age to develop similar recycling projects in their hometowns. "Anyone could do it, if I could," she says, "and I wish people in other places would try."
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Dear Editor: After reading "When Bar/Bat Mitzvah Loses Meaning" by Rabbi Janet Marder (Winter 1992) I felt compelled to write. I believe that a sense of materialism and excess pervades temple life. A large congregation may have more than one rabbi, a costly and bureaucratic administration, and a powerful membership committee who judges "applicants" based on their ability to pay astronomical dues. These factors contribute to the culture of the temple. No wonder that congregants strive to "keep up with the Kohnses"!
I suggest that all aspects of temple life should be examined in order to get to the the root of the problem. Excessive bar/bat mitzvah celebrations are a symptom of the disintegration of the temple as a community-oriented place of worship. Is it possible to go "back to basics," so that the true meaning of bar/bat mitzvah can flourish?
Donna Smith Toronto, Canada
Dear Editor: My husband and I have hosted and financed two b'nai mitzvah receptions. The first, a bar mitzvah in 1986, was formal. Tuxedos were worn and a trendy company provided decorations, including a net over the dais and illuminated tennis racquets of mammoth proportions. (Our theme was "tennis.") We invited everyone whose name we could spell. We loved it and all had a ball.
The second reception, a bat mitzvah in 1992, was modest. A girlfriend helped me make the decorations. We had a funky D.J. and dancers. My daughter invited loads of friends. My husband and I invited all relatives we were still talking to since 1986, friends we loved, a few business people, and folks who were meaningful to our kids. We loved it and had a great time.
In short, no synagogue should set up rules regarding a family's celebration. It's a matter of personal preference.
Bonnie W. Paston Syosset, NY
Dear Editor: Last year, following my bar mitzvah, I gave a portion of my presents to a hospital in New Jersey, where children with cancer go for treatment. After receiving the check, the hospital invited me to meet the sick children.
Practicing the mitzvah of bikur cholim (visiting the sick) changed my life. It helped me understand how much one person can do for another by just taking time to care. My parents have always told me that we sometimes forget those with whom we laugh, but we never forget those with whom we cry. I never understood what they meant until that day in New Jersey.
Joshua Syme Stamford, CT
Dear Editor: I wanted to let you know about my unusual bat mitzvah in Anne Frank's house. My parents wanted my bat mitzvah to be a meaningful and religious experience for me. My parents, brother and sister accompanied me to Amsterdam. A rabbi met us at the Anne Frank house. We climbed the stairs to the attic, where the bat mitzvah prayers were softly spoken. Later that evening we attended Friday night services at a beautiful temple on the outskirts of the city.
When we returned home, I spoke about my religious journey in my Brooklyn Heights temple during Holocaust Remembrance night.
Dana Margot Kaplan Brooklyn, NY
Dear Editor: I was very moved after reading the article, "Elana's Gift," about a teenage girl who collected over 25,000 personal care items for the needy. I decided to set up a small collection among my friends, family and neighbors. After only two weeks, I have collected almost 450 items, which I will donate to a local shelter for homeless families. I hope that many others will take up similar collections in their towns.
Dina Grossman Markowitz, Ph.D. Ardmore, PA
Demjanjuk the Terrible Dear Editor: Your report on "Demjanjuk the Terrible" by Charles Allen, Jr. (Winter 1992) was excellent. Pat Buchanan and a few others who condemn the justice systems of the U.S. and Israel in the Demjanjuk case are simply blowing hot air.
I can't help thinking about the contrast between the justice being accorded Demjanjuk and the justice he and other monsters like him meted out to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who came out of the cattle cars through a hail of beatings and slashings as they went, without a pause, into the doors of the gas chambers.