June 1, 2011
Thirteen years after moving to Portland, Marlene Ruden will celebrate her bat mitzvah at Congregation Shaarie Torah June 18 as part of perhaps the first adult b’nai mitzvah class at the 106-year-old shul.
“I wanted to read from the Torah,” said Ruden, who joined Shaarie Torah with her husband Ed Ruden last year after the board of the originally Orthodox congregation voted to permit women to read Torah, part of an evolution that began in the 1940s when Frieda Cohen and then other women came down from the women’s balcony to sit with their military husbands.
So it’s perhaps fitting that Ed Ruden decided to join his wife of 34 years in the b’nai mitzvah class. He said his first bar mitzvah was during a huge snowstorm so almost no one came and since it was in 1963 at a very Reform congregation on the east coast, he did not learn to read Torah.
Coincidentally, the parsha they will read in June is the same one their now 31-year-old son read at his bar mitzvah.
Shaarie Torah Education Director Dorice Horenstein, who has been at Shaarie Torah nine years, said she believes this is the congregation’s first adult b’nai mitzvah class, though some adults have studied individually and become a bar mitzvah as an adult. She said it is much different teaching adults than children.
“They want to do this for themselves,” Horenstein said of the six adult students.
“The students took to the task in most seriousness, mixed with a great sense of humor,” she said. “The way they learned the Torah tropes and understand prayers is admirable. These adults have been self-motivated, sincere, kind and amazing learners.”
Shaia Borden said he joined the class because he felt he had missed an important rite of passage that many of his cousins experienced years ago.
“I wanted to read Hebrew,” he said. “It’s harder than I thought it would be, but is a lot of fun and a great class.”
Corey Levine said, “With little to no formal training, when I heard out about an opportunity to participate in the b’nai mitzvah class from Shaarie Torah I jumped at the chance. It has made me feel close to my heritage and I can truly say that I’m a better person/husband/father today because of the class.”
“I’ve gone from ‘zero’ to b’nai mitzvah in under one year,” he added.
Kristen Ertischeck said that with four children in Shaarie Torah’s religious school, she felt she better join the class.
“I felt I couldn’t have them go through something I hadn’t gone through,” she said.
Jay Goldstein said he had a bar mitzvah 49 years ago, but he decided to join the class when the rabbi announced that he would like more members to participate in services, including reading Torah.
“So I felt I had a responsibility to be one of those people to reads some of those parshas” said Goldstein.
Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman said that currently the shul has two members who read Torah on an ongoing basis and probably seven or eight who have the ability.
“Now we’ll have some more,” he said, adding he is pleased that there are two women in the class. “As time goes on, I see more and more women willing to step up.”
The b’nai mitzvah class began in October, just after Yom Kippur, and meets every Sunday for two hours. The week before the class, Horenstein lead a day-long Hebrew marathon open to all adults who wanted to learn to read Hebrew or brush up on their skills. She said four of the six b’nai mitzvah students participated in the marathon.
Since Goldstein had learned to read Hebrew with Ashkenazic pronunciation, he said he decided to take the one-day Hebrew marathon last fall to learn the Sephardic pronunciation that has become more common since Israel became a state.
Horenstein said she will miss the students after they become b’nai mitzvah June 18, but she is already looking forward to offering the class again next fall.
The weekend celebration will include a Friday night service at 6:30 p.m. followed by dinner June 17 and Shabbat service June 18. Reservations for the dinner are $25/adult and $12/child. RSVP to either 503-226-6131 or education @ shaarietorah.org by June 14.