Bat Mitzvah Firsts


Is it really a surprise that Elena Kagan, likely our next Supreme Court justice, insisted on being the first girl at her Orthodox synagogue to have a bat mitzvah (“A Pioneer at Age 12,” May 14)?

Not to Moving Traditions, an organization that helps men and women, and girls and boys engage more deeply with Judaism. We noticed a few years ago that a striking number of high-achieving women had been “bat mitzvah firsts” in their communities — the very first, or the first Saturday morning, the first Torah reader, etc. We were captivated by this and set out to find and document the women, the rabbis and the parents who changed Judaism.

We are delighted, but not surprised, that Kagan is one of them.

Moving Traditions has recorded the stories of over 85 other women — some household names, others not — who were “bat mitzvah firsts” in their communities. Next year we will be launching a traveling gallery exhibit that highlights their stories and asks key questions for today such as: who were these girls and what inspired them? How did their bat mitzvah influence their life path as Jews, as women, as leaders? How did they change Judaism? What can their stories tell us about community transformation?

Readers of The Jewish Week can help by asking “firsts” to go to our website (www. and fill out the survey. 

Chair, Moving Traditions