I hope you enjoyed the Purim holiday. And since we are in the Hebrew month of Adar II and we are commanded to be happy, let's start with better news and further down share more about Ukraine.
Today is a very special day. Judith Kaplan, at age 12, became the first American girl to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah on March 18, 1922 -- 100 years ago today. What has now become a routine ceremony sparked a revolution led by young adolescent girls. Judith was the oldest daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, a prominent teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary, later the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, and the leader of its flagship synagogue in New York City, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (now called SAJ: Judaism That Stands For All). Rabbi Kaplan believed that girls should have the same religious opportunities as the boys.
The Kaplan bat mitzvah marked a turning point for Conservative Judaism in America. Always torn between tradition and modernity, the movement struggled for many decades with women's roles in the synagogue. Judith Kaplan herself did not read from the Torah scroll, as modern bat mitzvah celebrants do; instead, she read a passage from her seat (not the bimah) in Hebrew and English from a printed Chumash (the first five books of the Bible) following the regular Torah service. You can read her own recollection of the day here.
Still, Rabbi Kaplan's innovation gained followers. By 1948, about a third of Conservative congregations had conducted Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. By the 1960s, Bat Mitzvah was a regular feature of Conservative congregational life; today it is a mainstay in synagogues from Reform to Modern Orthodox.
Linda Hochman (nee Potter) z’l’, who recently passed away, was the first bat mitzvah in the State of Oregon some 70 years ago.
Judith married Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, who became Rabbi Kaplan's successor in leading the Reconstructionist movement. I had the opportunity to meet Judith in 1985 at a BBYO summer program where she described her groundbreaking experience.
On an different note, the United States Senate passed a bill to allow states to make daylight-saving time permanent, thus bringing more light to the evening hours in the winter. This new law would end the twice yearly tradition of moving clocks ahead or back an hour, which started in 1918. Under the Senate proposal, states would have to choose between sticking to standard time to daylight-saving time all year-round, and could not switch between them – starting in fall 2023.
Why do I mention this? It does have implications for the Jewish community.
For observant Jews, one of the greatest challenges is getting home on a Friday afternoon prior to the start of Shabbat (18 minutes before sunset). In northern city this can sometimes mean before 4:00 p.m. During daylight-saving time, this will move one hour later, so even on the darkest day of winter, Jews will have an additional hour to prepare for Shabbat.
The difficulty of this bill, however, is for observant Jews to say the morning prayers prior to work. Tradition teaches us to say the Amidah prayer after the sun has risen. If this law passes, in Portland for example, this could mean after 9:00 a.m. Therefore, many may not arrive to work until much later in the morning and may need to rearrange their work schedule.
Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia observe daylight-saving time eight months a year, and standard time the remaining four months. Arizona and Hawaii observe standard time year-round. We will see what happens when it goes to the House of Representatives.
An update on Ukraine...
The news remains alarming, with heavy bombardments intensifying, and millions of people displaced. The situation is constantly evolving and new needs are emerging. Through it all, our Jewish community has responded with great generosity. To date, we have raised over $335,000 (!!!) to provide life-saving support. Here is a snapshot of how your dollars are being used.