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.