When Taylor Newman saw the red carpet, the DJ, the photo booth and all of her relatives, she finally felt complete.
Last February, Newman, a pre-dental senior at UF, took advantage of an opportunity she missed out on more than seven years before — her Bat Mitzvah.
Usually, the event is celebrated with a religious ceremony and party and marks when a child turns 13 and becomes a man or a woman under Judaism.
However, growing up, Newman was less connected to Judaism than she is now and didn’t have a celebration.
But fortunately for her, Rabbi Berl Goldman and his wife, Chanie, directors of the Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center, started the Bar and Bat Mitzvah program last year to give students who never had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah a second chance.
Newman was one of five students to participate in the first Bar/Bat Mitzvah Bash, which was funded by donations to the center.
“I never thought in a million years I would have a chance like this again after I missed it when I was 13,” Newman said. “I’m so grateful that I have.”
The Goldmans are looking for their next group of students, and will begin working with them in January. The program is free, so anyone who is interested can have the opportunity.
“The reality is there are hundreds among the Jewish student population here that have not celebrated their Bar or Bat Mitzvah yet, and it bothers them,” Berl Goldman said.
To participate in the program, students have to attend a series of classes at the center, where they discuss Jewish history and traditions, Hebrew and modern Jewish issues.
Berl Goldman said one of the main reasons many children don’t have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah when they grow up is because they didn’t enjoy their Jewish education.
He wants to change that with his students.
“Don’t forget these are college students,” he said. “Every other element of society is vying for their attention.”
Julie Kaufman, a UF student who also participated in the program, said her Bat Mitzvah was more meaningful to her because she had it when she was 21 — not 13.
“You don’t understand the significance of a Bat Mitzvah when you’re younger,” she said. “Religion wasn’t really my priority then.”
Kaufman didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah when she was 13 because she was too busy and was not really interested, she said.
But as she grew up, Judaism became more important to her, and she was embarrassed not to have had a Bat Mitzvah.
“I just felt like there was something missing,” she said. “It was something I really wished I could go back and do.”
After Newman had her Bat Mitzvah, she changed her entire lifestyle, she said.
She started following the strict kosher dietary laws.
“It’s hard in Gainesville,” Newman said. “I don’t eat out or anything anymore. I don’t know why I chose to do it. I just know it feels right.”
Newman also said she noticed the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs have changed some of the students and help them grow.
Many of the students have also become more religious. Berl Goldman said if students are motivated to study and learn, they can have the opportunity to have their Bar or Bat Mitzvah at any age.
“By offering this program, we want to tell students it’s never too late,” he said. “You are Jewish, you are important and your Bar or Bat Mitzvah means something.”