Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

April 2006

Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a liminal event that is more than learning prayers and verses of Torah and Haftarah, especially for those who choose it at mid-life. As part of the culmination of an eighteen month time of studying together as a class, I invited our eleven women to Ojo Caliente to stay overnight Saturday until Sunday afternoon. Six were able to join us. I confess to extreme nerves in anticipation. Would they have our room reservations? Where would we gather for our different experiences? Would it snow and be too cold to sit outside for hours? The women arrived before dinner and settled in the rooms they shared with another person. We met around a fire pit at 6:30 for havdalah, and lit the candle from the fire already burning. We made a circle and sang the blessings with great ruah. At dinner over wine and laughter, I asked them to focus on their question: why did I embark on this journey? I asked this when they began, and now I hoped for different answers. I also asked them to look at the power of the feminine within themselves to guide their answer and the contribution they made to seeing an ancient patriarchal tradition through new eyes.
At 6:30 a.m. we met in the same place as havdalah for shaharit. We whipped through the prayers and most found it too fast to grasp. So be it. It was about 45 degrees and brilliantly clear. At 7:15 we went inside for coffee and a light snack to precede a guided imagery. I led them to a cave with an old woman inside who embraced them with wisdom and power. They chose whom they found in the cave. I led them by an ocean to get there, water being the mark of Miriam. Then I gave them instructions for their vision quest. They took paper and pen, and water. I told them to write all that they saw within and without, and to make a human form that was feminine from anything they saw within a 20 foot radius.
At 8:00 they all went out to find their special spot, the place that called them, and set a meeting time of 10:30 in the lobby. I did the same as I instructed. How else could I understand what they would tell me? At first I thought I’d go crazy with boredom in the little crevice I found not far from the hotel but far enough away to be silent and spacious. After a half hour of writing about this, I began to relax and revel in the peace of the place and time. I found a little y-shaped twig for my frame for the doll. A big green bushy plant that looked like mistletoe lay beside me. This was her bush, greatly larger than the little frame. I set a red stone in it for her power center, her place of generation and sex.
By the time I added two pearly breasts (using raffia to join the parts) her little frame broke. First lesson: think big! A six-inch narrow stone reinforced and strengthened her, becoming a powerful spine to hold breasts, heartstone in the center, and genitals. It was 10:20 when I checked the time for the second time, and I headed back.
I found six women ready and eager to tell me one by one of her experience. Each came to my room. Some read from pages of writing, including drawings and poems. Others looked deeply at me, eyes brimming with tears. I met their faces and told them what I heard in their experience. The single mother who had lost her only child spoke lyrically of the beauty of her place, and her vitality enlivened me. I told her not to fear her pain. It had not killed her nor her love for her daughter. She was healthy and would live with this sorrow that continued to connect her to her child and to her growing wise self.
Another, who had lived a quiet, retiring life, also radiated joy from her time at the river. She first wrote of deep friendships with women and then about the beauty of the place she observed. This surprised me, and revealed her essence of one who loved deeply. I invited her to imagine herself as powerful as her intellect and heart, the same word in Hebrew, lev.
I had told them that I would tell them their lives in ten minutes. Flip as it sounded, I was able to cut to the chase by listening deeply to them and to the One who guides me. Being a shaman rabbi is fun and profound.
In the private tub that I reserved, each woman entered the healing waters of the mikveh, taking a triple immersion. The first was the dying immersion of letting go of all that they no longer needed, e.g. anger, doubt, and confusion. The second was for the present of all that was left, including the glory of the morning air, warm water, and vast sky. The third was the womb, the pregnant, potential, future of all that they dreamed. One woman said that she was forced out of her mother’s womb prematurely at six months, and the mikveh felt as if she had healed the trauma of entering the world too soon.
All emerged from the waters radiant and awed by mystery. It took a little over an hour. After the last one, I threw off my clothes and immersed myself, alone and full of their hope. I wept with gratitude for their trust and God’s wisdom that moved through me. The only thing I would do differently would be to have invited them into silence all day Sunday, until lunch.
We met for lunch in the dining room, and the shared meal carried both the ineffable and the transition to returning to ordinary life. I was fried by the end and very satisfied. Everything that we needed, temperate weather, timing, openness, was given, and once again, my disbelief in myself and God, was shaken and fell away. the womens’ connections deepened to one another, to themselves, to their feminine, and to their Judaism.