Because of its efficacy as a teaching tool, experience-based learning is now being advocated as a strategy in classrooms from preschool through college. When twelve girls from Aventura, Florida’s Bat Mitzvah Club spent January 20-22 in the Brooklyn neighborhood surrounding Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, they got to know how the day of rest feels when the entire community is keyed into its celebration.
Bat Mitzvah Club offers a year of well-planned experiences and lessons that help girls grow into their Jewish womanhood with an understanding far deeper than that provided by frantic planning of a thematic bash. At Club meetings, members do more than holiday crafts. Through texts and guided discussion, they explore the lives of Jewish women past for meaning in the present. One group has been keeping a scrapbook and journal to dig for personal relevance from the lives of famous Jewish women. From its start in the 1990’s, Bat Mitzvah Clubs International has sprouted 270 branches from Albany and Montreal to Hong Kong and Berlin.
“Our success is due, in part, to the fact that the Bat Mitzvah Club answers some very tough questions that every Chabad representative is asked,” said Club founder Esty Frimerman. At bat mitzvah age, twelve, girls become accountable for their actions in the same way that a boy does at his bar mitzvah birthday. For generations, girl attained their new status without formal preparation. “Girls were missing out on an opportunity to understand their new spiritual strengths and how to tap into them.” Through the Bat Mitzvah Club, where girls assume leadership roles, they “discover the power and possibility inherent in becoming a proud Jewish woman.”
The New York trip offered Bertha Gross’s daughter Tami Moreno a chance to get “a first glance of the religious experience of Shabbos and how the traditions are done.” Gross added that Tami “loves the Bat Mitzvah Club. She likes the fact that she is learning different mitzvot and to care about people who need help.”
Moving theory into action is a common thread through Aventura’s Bat Mitzvah Club activities. After classes on kindness as a theme in the Torah, which referenced the lives of the Matriarchs and other biblical women for perspective, Bat Mitzvah Club of Aventura put their learning into practice. Before members fanned out to visit residents at a nursing home, Club members squinted through eyeglasses with Vaseline-coated lenses and struggled to write with bound fingers to understand challenges faced by some seniors.
The New York trip, where the girls spent a traditional Shabbat with a Chabad family, had a similar framework. Club meetings have addressed the spiritual ideas behind Shabbat. But over the weekend, the Aventura girls lived Shabbat. Together with Club Leader Dina Dornbusch, Chabad representative Chani Forta showed the Club members “what we have available in Judaism so as they grow up they don’t need to go searching other religions for meaning.”
Aventura, a Florida town a heartbeat away from North Miami, has a Jewish population larger than that of many countries. The density of Jews in Crown Heights wasn’t be surprising to the girls, but the community’s schedule that hums along a Jewish rhythm of Shabbat, prayer, and family life was.
Chantal Amsellem expected her daughter Clara to enjoy “the warmth of the tightly knit community of Crown Heights.” Clara’s enthusiasm for the Bat Mitzvah Club seeps through days before each meeting when she is quick to remind Chantal to drop her off at the right time.
On Sunday, when the Aventura Club’s rented van pulled up alongside the year old, six-story Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, they experienced everything Bat Mitzvah Clubs International is attempting to convey. “At the museum, Judaism is displayed in a modern, exciting and appealing way,” said Frimerman. “It reinforced what they learn at the Club – how exciting Judaism is, how meaningful it is to their own lives.”