Reflecting on Bar, Bat Mitzvah Experiences

Andy Hoffman (Photo provided)
Andy Hoffman (Photo provided)

Although it was more than 21 years ago, Andy Hoffman remembers his bar mitzvah party like it was yesterday.

Hoffman, 34, owner of Gourmet Again, celebrated with about 175 family and friends at the Woodholme Country in Pikesville, where the theme of the night was golf. Each table had a different professional golfer whom Hoffman admired at the time as the centerpiece, and there was a special room that featured hitting nets, long-drive contests and miniature golf for the kids.

“One of the best parts about that night was that a lot of the adults ended up in the kids’ room with all the golfing activities we had,” said Hoffman, a standout on the Towson University golf team from 2000 to 2004. “It was great to see all the kids trying to outdo the adults and vice versa in a good, competitive way.”

Simply put, the evening was a hole-in-one event for Hoffman, who basked in the glory after entering Jewish adulthood at Beth El Congregation in Pikesville hours earlier.

A bar or bat mitzvah is one of the most important days in a young boy’s or girl’s life. It marks a rite of passage for which a young Jewish boy or girl spends months, sometimes even years, preparing.

For Rebecca Ellison, who had her bat mitzvah service at Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills, her party was a “candy land dreamland.”

Ellison, 22, had a candy-themed affair, incorporating her favorite sugary treats into her centerpieces, food selections and candle lighting, among other things, at the now-defunct Chestnut Ridge Country Club in Lutherville.

“I always think it’s funny that everyone had a theme to their party,” Ellison said with a laugh. “We had giveaways at the end of my party, so everyone could take a candy bag home or make their own bag of candy.”

Perhaps more important than any extravagant celebration is the religious significance, which was not lost on either Hoffman or Ellison.

Rebecca Ellison (Photo provided)
Rebecca Ellison (Photo provided)

Hoffman, who said his mother didn’t have a bat mitzvah until she was about 50, studied under the watchful eye of his grandfather in addition to then Beth El Rabbi Mark Loeb.

Although one of the few things he can’t recall is his Haftarah portion, Hoffman came away with a greater understanding of what it mean to be Jewish by learning from the two men. His parents also provided him with overwhelming support at every turn, as he prepared for the big day.

“My mom was definitely into quizzing me and tutoring me as much she could with the Hebrew,” Hoffman said. “My grandfather also tutored me. He was old-school, semi-Conservadox, and he definitely played a large part in helping me as well.”

Ellison very much enjoyed her time at Beth Israel in Owings Mills, learning under the guidance of Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Cantor Roger Eisenberg and music teacher Doris Sugar.

Ellison studied her Haftarah portion, Shabbat Shel Rosh Chodesh, rigorously for a year-and-a-half with Sugar, ensuring she would be more than ready to lead her service as a single bat mitzvah (sometimes there were more than one b’nai mitzvah per service).

“If it wasn’t the longest Haftarah portions, it was definitely one of the longest,” Ellison said of the Shabbat Shel Rosh Chodesh. “I was a single bat mitzvah, so there was definitely a lot going on and a lot to take in as far as the studying went.”

Ellison, a development associate with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said she continues to incorporate a lot of what she learned in her bat mitzvah process.

“I was always dedicating — even if it was just one day a week — a lot of my time to Judaism and learning about my identity [at Beth Israel],” said Ellison, who graduated from Towson University this past spring with a degree in psychology. “I think that was something that was always consistent for me.”

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