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January 27, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 27, 2012

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ill aJaL:Jl Jl li 1'. LLJJIJLt-JIL.]J]ILIIILL,II.Ii ULBILflIIII.IL.J llllI l;J I W ]1J lj,JiUlU! Iljl]]] ] iJi[ LILLi J'l JLtJL J] JJill iLI|I:JU||IUIBI]]]JllJlIHIlU ............. PAGE 3B I HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 27, 2012 " Rabbi's manicures turn painted nails into mini-midrash Rabbi Yael Buechler (r) gives Johanna Ginsberg a "midrash manicure" before her son's bar mitzvah. By Johanna Ginsberg New Jersey Jewish News I really hate getting mani- cures. So, as I planned my son's bar mitzvah earlier in November, I dreaded the inevitable manicure a day or two before the event. Then I found Rabbi Yael Buechler. Buechler is coordinator of student life for the middle school at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in Hartsdale, N.Y. While still a rabbinical student, she served as program coordina- tor of Congregation Beth E1 in South Orange, N.J., where my son would become a bar mitzvah. Buechler has been polishing her nails on aweekly basis since middle school. She ran her own nail business while an undergraduate at Brandeis University--where she had a fingernail epiphany. "It dawned on me how each manicured fingernail could serve as a canvas for Jewish creativity," she said. "I began to paint each week's manicure according to the Torah por- tion or holiday of that week. I depicted the splitting of the Red Sea on my nails when that passage from Exodus was read from the Torah, and for Passover, I portrayed each of the 10 plagues." Now she has fused her interest in nail couture with her training in Jewish textual interpretation to create "Mi- drash Manicures" for students and "clients" like me. "Midrash" refers to the literature of creative rabbinic interpretation. Buechler sees a parallel between her manicures and the mitzvah of tefillin. "Mi- drash Manicures enable the mitzvah of Torah study to be 'a sign upon your hand,'" she said, quoting Deuteronomy 6:8, which describes the phy- lacteries. When I found her, I wasn't thinkingabout tefillin or signs upon my hand. I was thinking, "Goodbye, nail salon. Hello, creative life-cycle ritual." On the Thursday night be- fore the Big Shabbat, I laid out a spread and gathered seven women--including Beth El's Rabbi Francine Roston--and their daughters at my house. We welcomed Buechler, who joined us around the table. With hors d'oeuvres and wine in hand (lemonade for the girls), we studied the Displaying their "midrash manicures" Friday morning before the bar mitzvah are, from left: Rabbi Francine Roston, Amy Brownstein (the bar mitzvah boy's sister), and Johanna Ginsberg. On their nails, Roston has the Hebrew letters for "Hineni" plus a ram's horn on each thumb; Ginsberg has a variety of symbols associated with the parsha and her son, and Amy has angels, LOL," and a drop of water associated with Hagar. parsha under Buechler's direction. We reviewed the highlights of the jam-packed portion, from Abraham wel- coming angelic guests, to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to the binding of Isaac. Buechler focused on the section in which God tells Sarah she will have a child and Sarah laughs at the notion of a woman of her advanced age giving birth. Buechler asked, "As you think about this parsha, what symbols come to mind?" People threw out ideas like a baby rattle, the desert sun, a tent, an angel, and LOL, the electronic acronym for "laughing out loud." Buechler drew each onto sketches of nails. One by one, we headed to the manicure table, where she expertly polished our nails, adding designs reflecting the parsha. After some hesitation about participating at all, Ros- ton chose "Hineni"--liter- ally "Here I am," Abraham's response when God calls him one Hebrew letter on each nail and a shofar on each thumb. The girls were partial to LOL; many chose stars representing God's prediction that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous as the stars, or hearts symbolizing the love between Abraham and Sarah. I chose an image of Sarah laughing, the desert sun, a tent, the angels, fire for the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah, a shofar, a heart and three symbols for the bar mitzvah--Torah, tallit and a bear, representing my son's middle name. Not everyone takes kindly to Midrash Manicures. Writ- ing in the Forward, Israeli writer Elana Sztokman called them "a new low in girls' Jew- ish education" Buechler offers an elective course at the Westchester Schechter--and "a serious regression into some of the most damaging ideas about how girls learn." I'm not so sure that con- necting with girls where they are and slipping in some Torah study is such a sin. In fact, I consider these girls lucky to have a role model who can show them how to infuse To- rah into everything they do. It's another portal to Jewish learning, not so different from informal education at Jewish camps. Moreover, Buechler's en- deavor signifies an impor- A "midrash manicure" tant slift. The whole idea of a woman rabbi creating Torah manicures could only have happened now, decades after the first women were ordained. "The first genera- tion felt they had to be just like men," said Roston. "They wore dark suits and felt unable to bring their feminine side into the rabbinate. The second generation could bring their womanhood, as long they didn't have it as the focus and they didn't scare congregants away with feminism." Buechler, 26, became a rab- bi at the Jewish Theological Seminary a generation after the firstwomen were ordained . there. She did not have to fight to become a rabbi and cannot be considered a pioneer. But she has something else the ability to bring her whole self into the rabbinate. She does not have to choose between being feminine and being seri- ous. She doesn't have to mimic a man to be a rabbi. Because of the women who paved the way for her, she is now free to do midrash with her manicure without contradiction. That marks progression, though complicated and layerednot regression. In July, with her rabbinic degree and a master's degree in midrash in hand, she launched awebsite, www.midrashmani- It includes her commentaries on the weekly portion, examples of her work, and information about the workshops she runs for schools, synagogues and JCCs. "I was hoping that this educational website would serve as a launching pad for sparkling and innovative re- ligious expression," she said. For me, Midrash Manicures offers an opportunity to add some depth and content to a vacuous ritual, and a chance for women to learn Torah together and with our daughters. I can't think of a better way to prepare for a bar or bat mitzvah. PS: In case you were won- dering, yes, my son read Torah and haftorah beautifully, his d'var Torah was insightful and funny, and he looked handsome and grown-up in his suit. Of course I shepped plenty of naches; I am, after all, a Jewish mother. Johanna Ginsberg is a staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission. History of bar/bat mitzvah and confirlnation ingwith or following his 13th which celebrates the giving synagogue celebrations in service, either on the Torah connections with Judaism at Although the Talmud uses the term bar mitzvah to sig- nify a boy's coming of age, the only accompanying ritual was a blessing pronounced by the father thanking God for end- ing his responsibility for his son's observance of the mitz- rot (commandments). Yet the talmudic understanding of majority points more to the child's new intellectual and moral capabilities than to his new ritual responsibilities. In fact, even minorswere permit- ted to perform many public mitzvot such as being called up to the Torah for an aliyah (reciting the blessings on the Torah) or wearing tefillin (phylacteries) as soon as they were capable of performing them with understanding. Only later, in the Middle Ages. when the minor was generally not permitted to perform these mitzvot, did it make sense to celebrate their first public observance. By the 14th century, sources mention a boy being called up to the Torah for the first time on the Sabbath coincid- birthday. By the 17th century, boys were also reading Torah and delivering talks, often on talmudic learning, at an afternoon seudat mitz- vah (ritual meal). Today the speech, usually acommentary on the weekly Torah portion, generally takes place during the morning service. The ritual focus of the bar mitzvah was a source of dis- comfort to religious reform- ers in 19th-century Europe. They promoted an additional ceremony (influenced by the Christian catechism) called confirmation, which focused on knowledge of the principles of the Jewish faith. Although first conceived for boys only, girls were included after about the first decade. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, a leader of Reform Judaism in America. introduced confirmation in the United States in 1846 in Albany, N.Y. Confirmation Originally linked to home and school, the ceremony quickly moved to the syna- gogue and found a home in the holiday of Shavuot. of the Torah. Shavuot worked well, due both to its timing at the end of the secular school year and its thematic connection with the Torah. the story of the Jewish people and its relationship with God. To distinguish confir- mation from bar mitzvah. its supporters emphasized its focus on doctrine rather than ritual, its coeducational scope, and its occurrence at age 16 or 17 (serving, thereby, to prolong the child's Jewish education). Although the popularity of bar mitzvah may have waned in liberal circles during the heydayof confirmation, it has enjoyed a rebirth in recent decades. At the same time, bat mitzvah has developed as a ritual alternative for girls in the Conservative and the Reform movements. Bat Mitzvah Although many associate the first bat mitzvah cer- emony with that of Judith Kaplan, daughter of Recon- structionism's founder Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, in 1922, there is evidence of earlier Italy, France, and Poland. Even Kaplan's ceremony was a pale imitation of what was to come. Judith chanted the blessings over the Torah and then read a passage in Hebrew from a printed Bible, yet the innovative spark of her bat mitzvah was its focus on the ritual involvement and com- ing of age of one girl. Whereas many early bat mitzvahs, and even some today, took place at a Friday night service, during which the girl chanted the next morning's haftarah (the weekly prophetic portion), today bar and bat mitzvahs are virtually identical in most liberal synagogues. Among traditional Jews. bat mitzvah has been slower to develop as a ritual observance, although the coming-of-age aspect was often affirmed by a small party or festive meal at the girl's home. More recently, in liberal Orthodox environments, as the Jewish education of girls has become nearly identical to that of boys, girls have begun to observe the occasion by giving talks from the pulpit after the portion or on some aspect of women's ritual involvement. Another influence on the development of bat mitzvah within Orthodoxy is the women's prayer group, where women lead services (amend- ed to leave out prayers requir- ing the presence often men. a minyan) and read Torah and haftarah. These services offer role models for women's ritual involvement as well as a venue for bat mitzvahs where girls can have an "aliyah" (with amended blessings), read Torah, and even lead services. Adult Bar Mitzvahs As early as the 1950s, there were intimations that men who had not had a bar mitz- vah during adolescence felt Jewishly incomplete. In 1971. the first "belated" bar mitzvah was held and soon, as part of the movement for gender equality in Judaism, women also began participating in this new ceremony of adult identity affirmation. Either individually or in groups, men and women studied for a period of time and then ceremonially reaffirmed their a Shabbat morning service. Synagogues began to insti- tute more formal programs of study that enabled not only women, but also men and converts, to study about Jewish history, text, liturgy, and ritual, and to learn to read Hebrew and chant from the Torah and haftarah. is a leading transdenomi- national website of Jewish information and education. The site offers thousands of articles on all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life and is geared toward adults of all ages and backgrounds, from novice learners, who may be exploring Judaism for the first time, to experienced learners, who are looking to delve deeper into specific topic areas. In addition to the more than 5,000 articles, MyJewishLe- features video and audio content, a blog (Mixed Multitudes), an Ask- the-Expert column, recipes, weekly Torah commentar- ies, quizzes and discussion boards.