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
“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
“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