It’s an exclusive camp, so exclusive in fact, that eligible campers have but a once-in-a lifetime chance to get in. Open only to Jewish girls who are approaching their 12th birthday, the Bat Mitzvah Camp in New York’s capital district prepares girls for their upcoming Bat-Mitzvah.
Party planners may advise planning three years ahead of time, but no one here is comparing notes on the party DJ’s, cocktails, the dinner entrees, centerpieces and color coordination. Instead, the Bat Mitzvah Camp concentrates an intense two-weeks of workshops, discussions and a wide variety of exciting activities, preparing girls intellectually and spiritually, for becoming responsible members of the Jewish community.
An offshoot of the wildly successful Bat Mitzvah Club program, the camp is designed to “inspire a strong sense of confidence and curiosity about the Bat-Mitzvah girl’s Jewish identity,” says camp director Mrs. Nechama Dina Laber. Through exposure to a diverse range of themes, the camp provides girls with a forum for exploring their thoughts and feelings on matters relating to Jewish womanhood, she explains.
The brainchild of Mrs. Esti Frimmerman, the Bat Mitzvah Club, was launched some twelve years ago under the auspices of Tzivos Hashem, Chabad’s worldwide Jewish children’s organization. With 180 chapters around the world, the Club is responsible for a remarkable change in the way young girls consider this personal milestone. Nicole Rothblum and two of her friends in Munich, Germany, have decided to mark their Bat Mitzvah with a Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony, where the threesome will recite prayers and observe the Shabbat rituals with family and friends at the local Chabad Center.
Inspired by her Bat Mitzvah Club experience, Nicole is one of many girls whose sole exposure to Judaism has come through her membership in the Club, which meets monthly. According to Mrs. Diskin, the Chabad representative to Munich and director of the local Bat Mitzvah Club, “girls are encouraged to gain new perspectives on their positions as women, as adults and as Jews.” Munich’s Club, she says, “involves the girls on an interactive, intellectual level,” and has been tailored to suit its diverse membership. More interesting yet, it has inspired a number of mothers to request a parallel class for women, so that they too, can learn more about Judaism.
Initially implemented among her students in the sixth grade class of Bais Rivkah in Brooklyn, Mrs. Frimmerman says that “As a teacher of sixth grade girls, I wanted to help my students understand the true meaning of becoming Bat Mitzvah.” She began exploring various texts and was inspired by the Chasidic interpretation of this transitional period in an individual’s life. On a girl’s twelfth birthday, explains Frimmerman, she acquires her G-dly soul in its entirety, and becomes a responsible part of the Jewish community—making this an important milestone.
Complete with an attractive membership kit and a comprehensive course-by-course curriculum with creative craft and game suggestions, this club “for girls, run by girls and starring girls,” has by now made waves across fifteen countries worldwide and thirty states in the U.S., as young Jewish girls, many with hardly any previous affiliation, explore their Judaism and femininity, from a uniquely Chasidic perspective.
Members are assigned various tasks, such as MC, treasurer, secretary, and guest speaker, which teach responsibility and earn respect. Programming and activities vary from city to city, but many clubs have incorporated community service and weekend Shabbatons to help channel the girls’ energy towards meaningful activities.
“Many girls initially expected this to be a club about preparing for their party,” says Sacramento, California’s Club leader, Shainy Blau. Instead, meetings, like the one with black, white and gray table settings, a checkerboard cake, and a chess game, run on a specific theme, such as making ethical choices where the answer is not black-and-white, with everything tied into the theme. According to Rachel Yamshon, the Club has “made me think more about being Jewish. Last time I had to speak, my topic was Hanukkah, and I discovered that I didn’t really know what it was all about, so I’m learning a lot.”
The BMC of the Capital District, says Mrs. Laber, “strives to give the girls a much bigger picture of what being Bat Mitzvah really means, through emphasizing that what comes after a Jewish girl’s entry into womanhood, the choices she makes and the values she decides to live by, are much more important than all the preparations that go into celebrating the day itself.
To appeal to girls of this age group, Laber uses creative projects and games that convey ideas and start discussions that get the girls thinking, in a serious way, about issues that become relevant during this period in their lives. “We are learning about the Jewish spirit, the soul, and all about what it means to be Bat Mitzvah,” says 13-year old Laurie Hertzberg.
Nina Dolgin’s experience at the Bat Mitzvah Club of Alpharetta, Georgia, an up-and-coming suburb of Atlanta with hardly any Jewish infrastructure, has “changed the dynamics of Nina’s Jewish education, and has had a profound impact on the way she identifies Jewishly,” says her mother, Jill.
Directed by Mrs. Rashi Minkowitz, who designed her own curriculum with a focus on Jewish women throughout history, the Club, says Dolgin, provides girls with a “unique experience, leaving them enlightened on a whole new level.”
“We discuss the Jewish woman’s function as a link in the chain that connects women of the past and of the future, providing the girls with an appreciation of their role as Jewish women and a deeper understanding of their legacy, and enabling them to establish their own link in the chain,” says Minkowitz.
According to Mrs. Frimmerman, the BMC wants to help cultivate the kind of values that will positively shape future generations of Jews. “After all,” she points out, “these are the mothers of tomorrow.”