WASHINGTON (Dec. 19)
Fifteen months ago most of the 17 women yearning to celebrate their Bas Mitzvah didn’t know "aleph" from "bet" and the others were almost equally illiterate in Hebrew On a recent Saturday morning however they read all the Haftorab and the Torah portion of the week in fluent Hebrew and achieved their ambition to the delight of their teacher, 33-year-old Rabbi Stephen listfield at the 110-year-old Adas Israel Congregation in mid-town Washington.
The women who avidly sought a Jewish education that they did not receive as youngsters ranged in age from 23-year-old Abigail Friedman a Harvard graduate studying law at Georgetown University to Mrs. Sarah Bassin 69, a retired downtown restaurateur Their class formed after Carol Ross, 36 a trade specialist of the U.S. Department of Commerce suggested the idea to Listfield and helped him organize it.
The class members who included Janet Waxman wife of the California Congressman Herman Waxman studied Jewish history law and philosophy with Listfield and liturgy and Hebrew with Cantor Abe Golinkin For most of the stud period the women alternated each week between two hours of lectures by Listfield and instruction from Golinkin The momentum was maintained by home work.
"The whole experience was remarkable" Listfield who is from Highland Park N.J. said "It was really great These women studied hard because they wanted to learn."
"Their efforts recalled to me the example set by Rabbi Akiba" he said He explained to the class early in its work that Rabbi Akiba, a shepherd in Jerusalem in the First Century was about 40 years old when he began studying the Aleph Bet intensely when his son went to school and ultimately he became the foremost scholar of his time.
Why did the women join the class? "My children got a fine Jewish education and I said why should they know more than I? "was the response of Estelle Jacobs, one of the students. Pointing out "it’s not just another class," Sylvia Fogelman, a part-time receptionist and bookkeeper, said she joined it partly because it was a challenge but also because she wants to participate in synagogue services.
Ross said she wanted to know more about Judaism to help keep her family members informed about their heritage Her husband is a U.S Foreign Service officer and the family being transferred frequently from one country to another finds it difficult to obtain opportunities for Jewish studies.
Listfield said almost all the women will continue their studies and that another class ready to start will include at least one man who did not have a Bar Mitzvah.