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Ruby-Beth Buitekant ’09 and Rebecca Chavez ’08 read from the Torah for the first time as part of their Adult B'nei Mitzvah ceremony April 29.

Posted 05.16.06

Students Embrace Jewish Community at Wesleyan B'nei Mitzvah

In Jewish tradition, when a child reaches the age of maturity (12 years for girls, 13 years for boys) that child becomes responsible for following Jewish law. The Jewish families hold celebratory ceremonies – B’nai Mitzvah for boys, B’nei Mitzvah for girls – which acknowledge that the child has become son or daughter “of the commandment.”

Nowadays, however, not everyone follows these traditions and some Jewish children go on to adolescence without going through the ceremony. But for Wesleyan students Ruby-Beth Buitekant, ’09 and Rebecca Chavez ’08, now is better than never.

On April 28-29, Buitekant and Chavez shared a B’nei Mitzvah through Wesleyan’s Adult B’nai Mitzvah Project. They attended a Shabbat dinner and celebrated at a campus-wide party in their honor. They were lifted in chairs and honored. Most importantly, the students had the opportunity to lead a morning Torah service in front of their friends, family and Jewish community, which involves reciting their D'var Torah. This service links segments of the Torah to their personal journey of exploring their Jewish identity.

“We hope the Adult B’nai Mitzvah Project will guide students like Ruby-Beth and Rebecca as they explore their Jewish identities,” says Rachel Bedick ’08, who co-organized this year’s B’nei Mitzvah with Lillian Siegel ’08. “We also hope that the project makes them feel supported and embraced by the Wesleyan Jewish community so that they can go on to feel comfortable in other Jewish communities that they may encounter later in life.”

The student-run Adult Bnei Mitzvah Project was created three years ago by Daniel Heller ’06 and Ari Fagen '07. The students who elect to have a B’nai/B’nei Mitzvah ceremony as an adult spend the year studying Judaism and Hebrew. They also design a Tikun Olam or “Healing the World” community service project.

Each week, a different student, professor, or Rabbi from Wesleyan or the greater Middletown community comes to lead a class about a topic in Judaism. This year the 14 speakers including Henry Goldschmidt, assistant professor of religion, who taught a class on chosenness in Judaism; Rabbi Seth Reimer from Adath, Israel, who led a text study on the laws of purity; and Wesleyan Rabbi David Leipziger Teva, who led a class on lifecycles in Judaism.

In addition to class work, Buitekant and Chavez were matched up with a Hebrew student tutor, and they learned how to chant from the Torah.

Chavez, who joined the project to educate herself about Judiasm, says she now has an incredible sense of ownership of her Jewish identity. She was not raised in a Jewish community.

"I have really valued this process not only as a rite of passage into the Jewish community but as a vehicle for learning about myself through studying this aspect of my heritage," she says. "I genuinely feel like a part of the Jewish community at Wesleyan, which has been a wonderful discovery. It is not a purely individual process, but one in which I've been supported by a group of really motivated, caring people."

The Adult B’nei Mitvah Project culminated April 28-29 with activities devoted to the B’nei Mitzvah ceremony/service and celebration. Buitekant’s mother, Beth-Ann Buitekant, traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to attend the ceremony.

“I especially appreciate that Ruby-Beth was able to receive, at Wesleyan, the benefit of the teachings that I never fully learned myself and could not pass on to her,” Beth-Ann Buitekant says, who raised her daughter Quaker and Jewish. “It was a wonderful experience.”

For more information on the Adult B’nai/B’nei Mitvah Project, email dleipziger@wesleyan.edu
or rbedick@wesleyan.edu.

 
By Olivia Bartlett, Wesleyan Connection editor