I have to say, I wasn’t so surprised to hear that Sheryl Sandberg had formed Lean In, a new movement and book to empower women to take their rightful seats at the table and pursue their personal and professional goals. That’s because Sandberg’s bat mitzvah story is a part of our traveling exhibition presented with Moving Traditions,Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age, which will be on view at the Jewish Museum of Florida beginning April 9th*. The exhibition shows how bat mitzvah evolved from a radical, 1922 innovation by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and his daughter, Judith, into a nearly universal American tradition. At its essence, Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age is a story about how individuals shape and change tradition, which is just what Sandberg calls for in Lean In: starting the conversation and inspiring women to find their voices and become changemakers.
Sheryl Sandberg became a bat mitzvah in December of 1982 at Temple Sinai in Miami, Florida. For that occasion, she was twinned with refusenikKira Volvovsky of Gorky, USSR, who was unable to celebrate her own bat mitzvah under an oppressive Soviet regime. Did Sandberg’s bat mitzvah, a rite her mother and grandmothers never had the opportunity to enjoy, inspire her to work toward changing the nature of women’s leadership roles in the workplace, at home, and in their communities? I wonder, too, if twinning with a refusenik (the “social media” of the 80s?) encouraged her to now challenge the status quo in a big way.
So though a flurry of recent press focuses on her superhuman ability to have it all as a working mom—balancing engaged parenting with the demands of a high-level career—Sheryl Sandberg’s propensity to reach out, lean in, and take action actually dates back a few decades. How perfect that Bat Mitzvah is on its way to Miami, the city where Sandberg came of age.
At the end of her video pitch for the Lean In project, she sums up the importance of this endeavor with simple reasoning: “This is about believing in yourself.” As Sandberg and the dozens of other women in Bat Mitzvah Comes of Age have shown us, bat mitzvah wouldn’t be the ubiquitous rite it is today without the girls (and their parents and their rabbis) who believed in themselves, and in the dynamism of Jewish life, enough to take a risk and start a conversation.
- Contributed by Ivy Weingram, Associate Curator
*You can still catch the exhibition through March 29th in the Janice Charach Gallery of the JCC of Metropolitan Detroit.