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Celebrating My Bat Mitzvah at 54

Celebrating My Bat Mitzvah at 54

A Tu B'Av Birthday and the Power of Renewal

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As a child of Holocaust survivors growing up, even in Australia, was very much about survival and hiding from the Germans. Yes, I was very loved by my parents—in the guise of being protected, moreover, being overprotected. Yes, I knew I was born Jewish, but I didn’t really know what that meant. As time went on, being Jewish for me meant that you were hated by most people and, in fact, your very existence was denied. Being Jewish meant living in fear; therefore, we were taught not to trust non-Jews.

Because of this fear, I did not go to a Jewish schoolIt was because of this fear that I did not go to a Jewish school and that I did not have a bat mitzvah. We lived a very modest lifestyle, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. And yet, in spite of all this, my parents nevertheless encouraged me to attend a Jewish youth group where at least I learned the meaning of being a Zionist. I often wonder whether this could have been their Jewish soul yearning for connection.

As my brother and I grew up, my parents raised us the best way they could, but the fear they instilled in us affected our physical and emotional development. As a child, I always felt as though something was missing. I felt somewhat disconnected, and was constantly searching for the meaning of life and what my purpose in being here was. This questioning and searching continued for many, many years. Throughout my years at secondary school, a part of me had conformed to singing the compulsory hymns and school songs, as I didn’t want to appear different. And yet, a part of me gravitated to the small group of Jewish girls who attended the same school. I remember feeling a connection to them as we united to become a minority group. Together, we searched for the deeper meaning of our Jewish identity. Feeling empowered, we made a decision to stop attending Religious Instruction lessons. To this day, we still see each other and share hilarious stories of our days at school. I later came to realize that these experiences marked the beginning of my rebellious years, and they were important in developing who I have become today.

While I was away from home at a Jewish summer camp in the early 1970s, we heard the news that the Russian government (who wanted to discourage large-scale Soviet-Jewish immigration) had imprisoned a number of leaders of the Jewish movement. En masse, we left rural Victoria by bus and ran a protest rally outside the Russian Consulate in Canberra demanding the release of Soviet Jewry. Needless to say, our parents were not too pleased to see us on the news, especially when they thought we were happy little campers in the quiet country setting of Korumburra.

A few years later, I traveled to Europe with a close girl friend. We decided to start our journey with a short visit to Israel. I remember so clearly feeling at home in Israel. I felt an instant connection with the Israeli people. More importantly, I noticed a spiritual connection to my Jewish heritage and a real sense of familiarity with the country. At that point in time, I knew I would return to my roots and do something special here. So, 30 years later, I wrote another letter to G‑d—and I smiled as I remembered the last letter I wrote and put in the Western Wall, asking to return to my home in Israel. I had returned, to celebrate my own return to Jewish tradition with a bat mitzvah.

As I stood at the Western Wall with my family around me, I couldn’t help but feel proud of how far my husband and I have come together. We married in an Orthodox synagogue, and even though I had never attended there before, it felt right. David brought his own set of traditional Jewish values into the marriage, and I had very limited knowledge of anything Jewish. We both agreed that when the time came, we would provide a Jewish foundation for our children. I wanted them to have what I didn’t have, and so I began with lighting the candles on Friday night. Observing our children at school singing songs about the Jewish holidays was so uplifting to my soul. Witnessing the many wonderful celebrations left me full of pride, and I was so grateful that they had embraced their religion and were never ashamed or embarrassed as I had been. I shed many tears of joy during those years. Our children’s bar and bat mitzvahs have brought us so much pleasure, and left me with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.

I feel so proud of how far my husband and I have come together Although it would have been wonderful to have studied Hebrew at school and celebrated my bat mitzvah at a young age, I’m glad I waited because I can now appreciate this event for the right reasons. Most important, for me, is the acceptance of my identity and my responsibility as an adult in the Jewish community. I feel honored to formally acknowledge and to rejoice in being a bat mitzvah, and to uphold and continue my responsibilities in all aspects of Jewish rituals, laws, traditions and ethics. And to be celebrating all of this at the Kotel is a dream come true.

The Davidson family has a few of our own traditions. We find it challenging to make decisions and often change our minds, and unfortunately. we are known to be somewhat late. I like the motto “it’s never too late.” However, I think I have put new meaning to being late by celebrating my bat mitzvah and acquiring a Hebrew name at age 54!

I chose the name Elisheva. The name Elisheva means “My G‑d is my oath.” Elisheva was the wife of Aaron, the forefather of the Kohanim, the priests in the Holy Temple. According to later Jewish tradition, Elisheva is buried in Tiberias alongside Aaron’s mother Yocheved and other prominent Jewish women. That day by the Kotel, I was officially named at the reading of the Torah. It was my husband, David, who announced my name, as part of a special blessing.

My Hebrew birth date is the 15th of Av, Tu B’Av, and as it happens, this is a joyous occasion representing the ending of many poignant events in our history, and therefore representative of many new beginnings. To me, this is indeed auspicious as there is a certain thread linking all of these events together. It is that the joy is a result of the renewal and rebirth that followed a fragmentation.

I will briefly summarize these major events, in chronological order, and then link the valuable points I have learned.

1. In the wake of the incident of the Spies, in which the generation that came out of Egypt demonstrated their lack of preparedness for the task of conquering and settling the Holy Land, G‑d decreed that the entire generation would die out in the wilderness. After 38 years of wandering through the desert the dying finally ended, and on the 15th of Av, a new generation of Jews stood ready to enter the Land of Israel.

2. Restrictions were placed on marriages between members of the different tribes of Israel to prevent land from transferring from one tribe to another. This ordinance was binding on the generation that conquered and settled Israel, and when this restriction was lifted on the 15th of Av, the event was considered a cause for celebration and festivity.

3. The Jewish People found the power to become unified once again after a war between the tribe of Benjamin and the other tribes, and on Tu B’Av the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to re-enter the community.

4. After 10 tribes, under the leadership of King Jeroboam, split off from the kingdom of Judah in 2964 the king posted guards along all the roads leading to Jerusalem, to prevent his nation from going up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals. King Jeroboam feared that such pilgrimages might undermine his authority. As a “substitute,” he set up places of worship which were purely idolatrous. The division between the two kingdoms became a fait accompli and lasted for generations. The last king of this separate kingdom of 10 tribes, called the kingdom of Israel, was Hosea ben Elah. He wished to heal the breach and removed all the guards from the roads leading to Jerusalem, allowing all Jews to make the pilgrimage again. This act of reconciliation took place, you guessed it, on Tu B’Av.

5. There were no greater festivals than the Tu B’Av and Yom KippurThe fortress of Betar was the last holdout of the Bar Kochba rebellion. Betar fell on the 9th of Av, and thousands of Jews were killed in the fighting. The Romans massacred many of the survivors, and the Jews were not allowed to bury their dead. Approximately 15 years later, the Romans finally permitted the bodies of those who had been killed to be buried. There was a double miracle: firstly, the Romans finally gave permission for the burial; and secondly, in spite of the time that had elapsed, the bodies had not decomposed. In gratitude for this double miracle, a blessing was added to the Grace After Meals.

6. In ancient Israel, it was the custom that on the 15th of Av “the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed linen garments (so as not to embarrass those without beautiful clothes of their own) . . . and dance in the vineyards” and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride. Even today, wall posters in Jerusalem announce special Tu B’Av prayers for finding a match. It is a popular date for weddings. As it says in the Talmud: There were no greater festivals than the Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur.

The invisible link between all of these events is that they all share the same theme: that of reunion that follows a period of estrangement. More than the sum of the parts is the underlying message that these events teach us, and they resonate with me in particular. Just as the 15th of Av is the day when we celebrate the concept of reunion, I, too, celebrate a reunion with my spirituality and my essence. I believe that things that belong together will be reunited regardless of how long they have been apart.

Liz at the Kotel
Liz at the Kotel

I was born on the 15th of Av into a family filled with fears, though looking back I realize my parents also had courage and tenacity. After going through much pain, grief and ultimately acceptance, I have reached a point where I am able to fully embrace what it means to be a Jew-and to learn and to grow as a Jewish woman, to feel both real pride and happiness. Growing up as a child of survivors, in a place where Jews were a minority—insecure and worried—I experienced tremendous pressure to assimilate, to hide my Judaism. We were a people and a family that had been fragmented in so many ways by the brutality of the Holocaust and the indifference of the world that watched it happen. Today, we are healing, and what better day to celebrate that healing—and my own personal growth—than Tu B’Av, a day associated with the wholeness and joy that follow fragmentation and tragedy. It is said that everything that happens, happens by Divine Providence—and I see clearly the Divine Providence in having been born on this day. I have experienced difficulties in my life, but they have led me, in their own way, to the happiness, peace, and fulfillment that I have now.

Liz Davidson is passionate about living life to the fullest with her children and family, clients from her personal training business, and through her faith in Judaism.
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Anonymous Chandler, AZ via chabadcenter.com August 12, 2014

Bat mitzvah at 54 I was 5 months short of my 70 th birthday when I became bat mitzvah. So it really is never too,late. Mazeltov! Reply

EFRAIM JHB, South Africa August 6, 2009

Inspiring Inspiring...I shed a few tears of joy reading your story. Reply

Zelig Chicago, IL August 6, 2009

Mazel Tov Yes it is true..."It is never too late"! Your neshuma (soul) waits until you are ready. My cousin Jack (obm) escaped Russia as a child, never having the opportunity of a Bar Mitzvah. On his 90th birthday, 77 years after the time most celebrate their Bar or Bat Mitvah..Jack became a Bar Mitvah! Yes, it's never too late!!!
Best wishes- Reply

Rivkah SI, NY August 5, 2009

Later sometimes means with appropriate intentions The beginning of your story sounds a lot like mine. At age 44 I walked into The Jewish Outreach Program at Young Israel, a few years later had a Bat Mitzvah, joined a synagogue & continue to study. (Now I'm 57) Reply

Liz Davidson Melbourne, Australia August 5, 2009

Thank you My mission for printing such a personal journey was to inspire anyone out there who may have been toying with the concept of reconnection. If I could even touch one person that would think about taking this pathway of finding deeper meaning and resolve then I feel blessed.

Thank you for all your beautiful comments. Whether you have found a path where you are learning hebrew or keeping shabbos or studying to do your own batmitzvah, or attending classes to fulfill your spiritual needs, enjoy every moment and know that your neshama (soul) is smiling. Please keep me up to date with how your journey progresses.
Regards Liz Reply

Chaya New Melbourne, Australia August 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Liz I was so proud to see that you submitted your story to Chabad.org. As today is Tu B'Av it is fortuitious that I happened to read it today!! All the best for the upcoming year... Reply

mark alcock Durban, SA via chabadnc.com August 4, 2009

Mazaltov ! quite inspiring ! I too am of a similar age and when questioning my Bar Mitzvah ,i was told we would skip that due to my age.I insisted and was warned to obey the reformed rules.With this i went cold and reformed to being as i was,an unreformed non-Jew.Just shows you the power of Bar Mitzvah. Reply

Malka Miami, Florida August 4, 2009

mazel tov, mazel tov! Elisheva, your story, and the wonderful way that you wrote it for us really was a joy and an inspiration to read. You've exhibited once again to me the power of that pintele Yid, that essential piece of Hashem, our neshama, that fuels our entire existence. Your Bat Mitzvah story warmed my heart, particularly the simplistic, yet genuiine manner in which you celebrated the occasion. So many girls go with catered affairs, expensive dresses, etc, but they've missed the point (evidently, as the young age of 12, they might not have the maturity or depth to understand "the point").
Our family made 3 heartfelt, meaningful Bar Mitzvahs in America, with the rented shul, band, caterer,etc. but our "baby's" Bar Mitzvah last year at the Kotel, in its spiritual simplicity, in a way, outshined them all. (no offence meant to the older brothers).
Hashem should bless you and your family with continued spiritual growth and fulfillment, with joy, as the joyous day of your birthday would indicate. Reply

Anonymous Johannesburg, South Africa August 3, 2009

Having a Bat-Mitzvah!!! Hi I am 40yrs old and never had the chance to have my Bat-Mitzvahs and after hearing your story that touched my heart I have now decided that I too want to have mine and I will not give up on my quest and I will pray to Hashem for guidance!!!!

You are an inspiration to me and I have never actually found my connection to being a JEW!!!!! Reply

Louis & Irma Soiza Gibraltar, Gibraltar August 3, 2009

Re:Celebrating My Bat Mitzvah at Fifty-Four Congratulations on an inspirng story. What a wonderfully written article.
Be proud to be Jewish, for you and your people are the light of the world. Yes, this world we live in has a lot to learn from your culture. I am not Jewish, I think, yet I love the Jewish people and Israel as if I were, I am learning hebrew and my wife and I are returning to Israel again this october, G-d permitting, on our third visit. We keep and celebrate the shabbat and all Jewish feasts.
May G-d bless you and your family. Reply

Nechama Cheses Newtonville, MA/USA August 3, 2009

Mazel Tov! Your story was so wonderful and sometimes later is better! - You truly understood the deep significance it has had on your life and that of your lucky family! You are now officially three times 'chai' - it's a good mazel year of enlightenment. I will also turn this same milestone age this year and believe it is a time of clarity for women when our lives come into full perspective...
Yasher Koach on your accomplishment!
~Kol Tuv Reply

Elisheva Rosenberg Nashville, TN August 3, 2009

Thank G-d from one elizabeth (elisheva) to another...thanks for sharing your inspiring story! Reply

Naomi Lakritz Calgary, Canada August 2, 2009

Heartwarming Your article was inspirational. Next year, I'll be celebrating my bat mitzvah at age 54, too. There is definitely a sense of long-awaited completeness at reconnecting with one's Jewish heritage. Reply

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