In a decidedly rare occurrence for a place that of late has become a go-to destination for Jewish adolescents celebrating their religious entry into adulthood, a 60-year-old American woman hosted her own Bat Mitzvah celebration atop the ancient Judean Desert fortress of Masada.

Leslie Larsen, a resident of East Meadow, N.Y., was vacationing in the Holy Land with her husband Jeffrey Larsen last month when she reached out to Rabbi Shimon Elharar to help her commemorate an occasion that happened long before on her 12th birthday. In recent years, she cultivated a desire to learn about the responsibilities and spiritual significance Judaism places on womanhood.

Elharar, who as director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dead Sea has arranged countless Bar and Bat Mitzvahs for local Israelis at the Masada mountaintop, didn’t have much time to prepare. He drew on his own workshop for area girls, which incorporates the spiritual and material aspects of baking challah, a Jewish practice that specifically applies to women.

Inside Masada’s ancient synagogue – which Elharar and a ritual scribe are returning to full-time use – Larsen learned about the finer points of baking challah and the requirement of separating a small portion of the dough as a remembrance of what the priestly class received during the time of the Holy Temple. By the end of the hands-on workshop and thanks to some assistance from female staff members at the Chabad House, she had her own home-baked, fragrant, braided loaf to take back to her hotel.

For Larsen, the experience reflected a spiritual commitment all too often left out of many modern-day celebrations.

“This was something that I wanted my sons to do when they had their Bar Mitzvahs,” she said. “But they wanted ‘the party’ instead. And I never had a Bat Mitzvah. So this was our gift to each other, my husband and I, for our 60th birthdays.”

A smiling Elharar counted the celebration among the most powerful to take place at the ruins.

“Leslie was excited like a young girl,” he said. “It was a joy to behold. Her husband was so proud.”

“You look out over the valley, and it’s an incredible view,” added Larsen. “It’s just a beautiful place to be.”