In Jewish tradition, the bar or bat mitzvah is a milestone coming of age ceremony.
It’s usually carried out at the age of 13 for a boy and 12 for a girl, but not always.
One Montreal woman originally from Winnipeg just defied the odds by having hers at the age of 80.
“About eight years ago, I started thinking that I really would like to have a bat mitzvah,” 80-year-old Ruth Cooperstock told Global News.
She got serious about the idea after her two grandsons’ bar mitzvahs a few years ago. During the proceedings, she spoke aloud about how she wished she could have her own.
“My daughter in law, who overheard me, immediately responded, ‘You’re going to have one.’ Before the celebration was over, she began telling everyone there that I was next, that Ruth was going to have a bat mitzvah,” Cooperstock recounted.
Cooperstock grew up in Winnipeg, and never got a bat mitzvah as a child.
“I had no background in Hebrew education, and I thought that would be a little too formidable. So I was thankful not to have to go through it through that at that time,” she explained.
She later moved to Victoria, B.C., until her husband abruptly passed away and she moved in with her son’s family in Montreal.
The bar or bat mitzvah is a rite of passage that involves singing Torah verses in Hebrew in a very specific way in front of family and friends.
“In a sense, you’re standing up and saying, ‘OK, I’m here now. I can be counted on,’” explained Heather Batchelor, the cantor who helped Cooperstock learn her bat mitzvah.
People have counted on Ruth Cooperstock for decades, however. For her, learning to be bat mitzvah meant proving something to herself.
“I always like to have a challenge, so I thought, I’m going to do this,” said Cooperstock.
Initially, she tried to teach the passages to herself but finally decided she needed help.
“It’s certainly not the easiest thing, especially for one who feels she doesn’t have a voice that would be suitable for such an endeavour,” she said.
Batchelor became her teacher, and was immediately impressed by the devotion of her oldest-ever student.
“I just really came to respect her incredible determination,” Batchelor said. “For many women in her generation, a lot of times they were raised with this idea that these were things that women couldn’t do. The biggest challenge with Ruth was convincing her that she was as good as she was.“
There were several obstacles.
For one, while practicing, Cooperstock lost her voice for several months.
“I absolutely could not utter a single singing sound,” she said.
COVID delayed plans as well, and she had a neck injury that required physio.
“These things happen and you can’t just stop what you’re doing. You have to go ahead, and I did,” Cooperstock said.
She sent out invitations, and said one family member came back with a funny and awkward response.
“One of my cousins responded that he was sorry that he wasn’t able to attend my granddaughter’s bat mitzvah and I don’t know how he was kept thinking that it was my granddaughter because it was very explicit,” she said.
After two years of study, she finally walked up the steps at the Dorshei Emet synagogue in Hampstead in mid June.
With the participation of about 50 family and friends in person and 50 more on Zoom, she did it.
Multiple members of her family took part in the ceremony, including her grandchildren.
“I knew she would do it because she does anything she sets her mind to,” said Roman Cooperstock, Ruth’s daughter. Ramona said she was impressed, but not surprised by her mother’s accomplishment.
Ruth said other elderly women who never got bat mitzvahs have already told her they now feel they can follow in her footsteps.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” said Ruth.
Ruth wants to do more Torah reading, and is now also planning to learn Spanish.
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