Now over seven years ago, it was the Jewish experience – a JBBBS-sponsored Community Model Seder – that brought together board member and current Friend 2 Friend Advisory Committee Co-Chair, Elyse Marsh, and Friend 2 Friend participant, Allison. Allison’s long-time match ended a few months prior and she was eager to be introduced to a new Friend in the program; Elyse was considering volunteering. Says Elyse, “Jan [Klein, Friend 2 Friend Director] told me, ‘There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.’” Elyse and Allison were formally matched in Friend 2 Friend’s MAGIC program shortly thereafter, and they’ve been on parallel Jewish journeys since. (Before sitting down for this interview, they lit Hanukkah candles.)
Here, Elyse and Allison reflect on one special, shared experience: The adult bat mitzvah.
Elyse never celebrated becoming a bat mitzvah as a 13-year-old. “In those days, girls at my Reform temple didn’t. It wasn’t a thing like today.” So, between marking her daughter’s bat mitzvah and preparing for her son’s bar mitzvah, she enrolled in a course at her synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, culminating in a group b’nai mitzvah ceremony later the same year. “We each took a paragraph of the Torah portion,” she says, recounting the experience. Elyse was joined that day by family and friends. Over the years, Allison and Elyse discussed it.
“Years later, we were attending another Friend 2 Friend seder together, which, in those days, was hosted at Temple Beth Shalom. After it was over, Allison went right up to Rabbi Jay [Perlman] and she said, ‘I think I’m going to have a bat mitzvah.’”
Several years and lots of practice later, she did. “I had a tutor to help me learn the sounds. And Elyse shared the flashcards she used when she was practicing. Those really helped.” Earlier this year, the 38-year-old – who, like Elyse, was raised Jewishly but never celebrated becoming a bat mitzvah as a child – celebrated her own adult bat mitzvah at her family’s synagogue, Temple Israel, Natick.
Unlike Elyse, she stood alone at the bimah. Comfortable before a crowd, Allison says she wasn’t intimidated. (A few months later, she delivered a prayer for the State of Israel at High Holiday services.)
“My Torah portion, and my d’var Torah, were about Moses bringing water from the rock,” says Allison. The parsha, which some commenters have taken for a reflection on the importance of talking, listening and trusting in the process, resonates for their friendship, too. Over the years, they’ve come together each month for MAGIC activities like cooking class and Paint Bar. But, says Allison, her all-time favorite activity – the one that’s managed to bring her closest to Elyse – is conversation. “Just talking and hanging out.”