At 28, a Woman Finally Feels Like a Jewish Adult

By Holly Lebowitz Rossi

Published January 24, 2003, issue of January 24, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Over the past two months, I’ve been in synagogue on Shabbat four times, way more than normal, because of back-to-back family bar and bat mitzvahs. I was asked to read from the Torah at two of the services, for the first time since my own bat mitzvah 15 years ago.

It seems only fitting that I received my taped recording of the first Torah portion (I never learned the trop system) just before a trip to my parents’ house. I listened to the tape over and over again on their early-1980s stereo, studying and trying to memorize the passage just as I had a decade and a half ago. It felt like a second bat mitzvah, an adult rite of passage and a chance to start a fresh Jewish life. It felt like a gift.

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep in the antique bed that my great-grandparents bought almost a hundred years ago. I am the third generation of women, after my grandmother and mother, to snuggle into the bed for a night’s rest, but the only one who has ever read from the Torah, learned Hebrew or put on a tallis, or prayer shawl. I realized that just an arm’s reach away, in the matching armoire next to my bed, was my father’s tallis, the same one I wore at my bat mitzvah.

As I turned the key on the armoire, opening the door and carefully sliding open the middle drawer, I thought about how almost every Jewish artifact associated with my upbringing was locked inside this piece of furniture, a piece that was purchased and lovingly preserved by the side of my family that comes from the classical Reform tradition, the Cincinnati heritage of all-English services and the shedding of Jewish rituals in favor of a more moralistic, American civil religious experience. The prayer book inscribed with my name was in there, along with my bat mitzvah speech and paperwork, and the tallis, carefully folded and tucked away inside its blue velvet bag, emblazoned with a gold Star of David.

I wondered if, seeing me in that moment, my great-grandparents would have been disappointed or considered me a throwback, looking for the wrong things from Judaism. But the next morning I showed the tallis the light of day, washed it and pressed it. My father dug in his own drawer and found my grandfather’s tallis tucked in there. The two shawls matched, so they must have been purchased at the same time, probably for my father’s 1957 bar mitzvah.

I chose my grandfather’s tallis for my Torah readings, because it’s a man’s size, my father’s a smaller boy’s. Although it’s not the huge drapery that some people wear, the enormous cocoon that seems to create a little personal prayer pocket, it feels big and comforting to me when I put it on. Kind of like how my grandfather felt to me. Like something a Jewish adult would wear. And, at age 28, I finally felt like a true Jewish adult.

Holly Lebowitz Rossi writes from Arlington, Mass.

Do you have a favorite Jewish object, traditional or not very? The Forward is seeking short essays, 500 words or fewer, describing such objects and what they mean to the writer. Send your contribution or suggestion to

Find us on Facebook!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach!
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.