Jewish girls traditionally celebrate their coming-of-age when they turn 12. But last Sunday, seven women at Leeds University in England played catch-up.
Collecting their diplomas, the women capped a four week course of study at an elegant dinner at the new Chabad Leeds Campus Student Centre. Led by Chana Sorah Danow, Chabad representative to Leeds with her husband, Rabbi Michoel Danow, the women “graduated” with a thorough grounding in the basic mitzvoth, among them kashrut, Shabbat and mikvah.
“It all started when I was learning with Jodie Sheldon,” said Chana Sorah. “Jodie mentioned that she’d never had a Bat Mitzva.” The two cooked up a mature version of a Bat Mitzvah program, with another six women quickly joining.
“This course has given me much more perspective on what is important to me and what I am going to aim for in life. If someone were to ask me why do we learn these laws and the meaning behind them? I think one of the most important reasons I would say, is to teach them to our children.”
It was another route that brought Sarah Fisher, 21 to the class. A theology student, her course work required her to visit places of worship. After a Christian course mate offered to take her to her church if she’d take her “someplace Jewish,” Sarah was stumped, not sure where she’d find something Jewish on campus. She was more than curious then, when she and a group of friends were approached a boy in a black hat and jacket.
Mendel Danow, Chana Sorah’s teenage son Mendel, wanted to know if anyone among the group was Jewish. “They all turned and pointed to me,” says Sarah, laughing. Seizing the opportunity, Sarah and her friend attended a Passover seder at the Danows just a few days later.
“I was totally overwhelmed at first” she says, “but something drew me back again and again.”
Today, Sarah is a Shabbat regular, an active member of the Jewish student community, and is continuing to explore her Jewish heritage.
At the dinner, Chana Sorah challenged her first course “graduates.”
“Unlike other courses at university, there was no written test at the end of this course. The real test will be taking everything you learnt in this course and using it to enhance the rest of your life.”