Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age

October 9, 2013 – January 26, 2014

November 2013 Media Release

For more information contact: Palma Corral 503-226-3600 Ext 101 or



Exhibition explores Jewish female coming-of-age

 To mark the 90th anniversary of the very first bat mitzvah, the Oregon Jewish Museum (OJM) presents a traveling exhibition entitled Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age, from October 9, 2013 – January 26, 2014. OJM will host an opening reception on Wednesday, October 9, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. The opening reception is free and open to the public.

 Exhibition gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Friday from 10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Museum admission is $6 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, and free for OJM Members and children under 12 accompanied by a parent or guardian. The exhibit has been organized by the National Museum of American Jewish History and Moving Traditions.

 In many Jewish communities today, bat mitzvahs celebrating young girls’ religious maturation are as common as bar mitzvahs, their male counterparts. But less than a century ago, a girl reading from the Torah in front of her congregation was revolutionary. On Saturday morning, March 18, 1922 – two years after American women received the right to vote – Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan summoned his daughter, Judith, to the front of the synagogue sanctuary, where she read from the Torah in Hebrew and English and gave the requisite blessings. With this bold, transformative act, Judith Kaplan and her father initiated what would become the widespread American Jewish practice of bat mitzvah. 

 Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age is based on personal stories from over 150 respondents, from bat mitzvah “pioneers” to recent b’not mitzvah. The stories range across the American-Jewish spectrum, from secular to ultra-Orthodox and from small town to urban center. The exhibition includes oral history recordings of bat mitzvah stories, a timeline of relevant historical milestones, and an interactive component in which visitors can share their coming-of-age story and photos. Weaving the stories of the evolution of American Jewish life with 20th century feminism, the exhibition includes narratives and artifacts from everyday trendsetters to prominent women such as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and political activist Ruth Messinger.

 Says Judith Margles, Director of OJM, “The exhibit illustrates an important connection between the movement for women's equality and the development of American Judaism, a link that emerges when looking at the tradition of the bat mitzvah in Oregon.” OJM is creating a companion exhibit that focuses on the Oregon story; in 1956 Congregation Beth Israel in Portland welcomed Karen Sue Shulcoff as the first recorded Oregon bat mitzvah, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the ritual became a regular part of religious practice for many Oregon Jewish girls.   

OJM will be presenting a number of workshops and programs to accompany Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age

Tuesday, October 15, 7:00 p.m.: PUNK JEWS. Watch the film and meet Director Jesse Zook Mann and Producer Evan Kleinman. Co-sponsored by the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, and made possible with the generous support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.

 Sunday, November 10, 1:00 p.m.:  Tallit Workshop with fiber artist Diane Fredgant

Thursday, December 12, 7:00 p.m.: Deeksha: Film, Dance & Conversation About Coming of Age in India

 Wednesday, January 15, 7:00 p.m.: Storytelling Circle–Stories of Awkwardness and Grace in Adolescence, moderated by storyteller and Maggid Cassandra Sagan.

 For tickets and more information visit or call the museum at 503-226-3600.

 The Oregon Jewish Museum, the Pacific Northwest’s only Jewish museum, examines and preserves the rich cultural heritage of one of Oregon’s earliest immigrant groups. Through creating and hosting a variety of community-based and traveling exhibitions, maintaining a library and archive, presenting films and other cultural programming, and engaging in educational outreach, we seek to stimulate dialogue about identity, culture, and assimilation. We provide opportunities for Jews and non-Jews alike to understand the Jewish experience as a paradigm both for cultural survival and inter-cultural understanding.


Francine Hodes at her Bat Mitzvah party. Portland, Oregon, 1965.  Courtesy of Francine Hodes Abolofia.