In Judaism, much is made of the passing down of traditions from one generation to the next—just check out the many lists of “begats” that appear throughout the Old Testament. In early June, at Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, a Bat Mitzvah ceremony put a post-patriarchal spin on the tradition of traditions, as a local 13-year-old girl read aloud from the same Torah scroll that her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother had all read from, too.
Marcia Podvey, who lives in Montclair with her partner Sherri Glassman, daughter Skylar, and son Lucas, says they were nearly at the end of planning Skylar’s June 2 Bat Mitzvah when “we were at a family program for my son. The rabbi was talking about the history of the Torah, and I realized it was the same one.” It’s a scroll made in the Czech Republic in 1900, which came to the Montclair congregation in the mid-1970s.
And while it’s common for the last two generations of girls to go through this rite of passage, before then it was more typical only for boys to be called to the Torah at 13. Skylar’s grandmother Sybil and great-grandmother Hazel, in fact, didn’t have their ceremonies as kids: they both took adult classes at the temple and only became Bat Mitzvah after Marcia had in the early 1980s.
“We have a history of women being strong and independent and doing things their own way,” says Podvey, who notes that Hazel got an associates degree in the 1930s—which was practically unheard of at the time—and Sybil was a math major who went on to get an MBA. “Skylar is like that, too. She’s an accomplished ice hockey player, and she comes from a family of two moms and is proud of that. It’s a family tradition.”
Rabbi Laurence Groffman of Temple Shalom says, “It is unique to have four generations of women to become Bat Mitzvah and read from the same scroll in a congregation that is only 58 years old,” and he also sees personality traits being passed down through this line of New Jersey women.
Skylar gave a sermon about her Torah portion’s story of the Nazarites, a minority group that had different rules placed on them by ancient society, and she didn’t hesitate to connect the Biblical pasages with her own life, being raised by two mothers. “I was moved at Skylar’s Bat Mitzvah when she talked about how being in a family that is somewhat different used to be difficult for her,” says the rabbi. “But she demonstrated the strength of her moms, Marcia and Sherri, her grandmother, and great-grandmother when she described how being in her family is no longer a challenge for her and is instead truly wonderful.”
“It was a gutsy sermon for a 13-yr-old,” Podvey says. “She really did understand the meaning of it. It was just amazing to see, especially as my family has a lot of history at the synagogue.”
That history, which is now intertwined with the long, hand-written Hebrew lines of the Torah scroll, is unlikely to stop moving down through the generations. Skylar’s brother Lucas is just a couple of years away from turning 13, and then it will be his turn to step up to the “family Torah.”