SARASOTA -- For a Lakewood Ranch woman, devoting a year to studing Hebrew in order to participate in a single event Friday was the opportunity to become more connected to her faith and her congregation.
Cindy Gilburne, a mother and housewife, became a bat mitzvah Friday evening during a traditional coming of age ritual at Temple Emanu-El in Sarasota.
Gilburne, at 49, was not your typical bat mitzvah student. She and her family have attended Temple Emanu-El for the past 10 years. She's been involved in many projects at the temple. She's served as president of the temple's women's group. There was just one thing missing.
"It's great to be able to go to a service on a Friday night and be able to follow along in the prayer book and know what the prayers mean. It makes me feel involved," she said.
Usually, a girl or boy goes through the ritual -- a bar mitzvah for boys, a bat mitzvah for girls -- at 12 or 13. But it doesn't always happen.
"Because I didn't get bat mitzvahed as a child, it's definitely something that's stayed with me," she explained. She grew up in a Jewish home in Westchester County, N.Y. She didn't participate in the ritual, "for the pure and simple reason that I lived in White Plains and the temple I belonged to was in Scarsdale. I didn't know any of the girls, I didn't feel comfortable.
"That's really the only reason. My parents just didn't force me to. And I think it's better that they didn't. I think it's great that I waited, because it means so much more to me today," Gilburne said.
She also had the opportunity to tell the congregation what the process has meant to her. Rabbi Brenner Glickman of Temple Emanu-El, says the ritual, "makes you feel part of the group fully. In her speech, she
talks about the Jewish peoplehood. It's very important for her to be a part of this greater family. I think she felt a barrier not knowing the Hebrew. There was a disconnect, a wall, and now she's removed that disconnect," he said.
"As a Jew, this is what you're supposed to do," she said. "I want to be sure I follow all the traditions and do everything I'm supposed to do. That's really important to me."
The process itself was not easy. "It's a lot of study," she conceded. She attended class every Sunday morning and then studied on her own, up to two hours a day. "There was a group of about 12 of us, all adults, who had their own reasons taking the class. Some were converting to Judaism, some just wanted to learn," she said. "So it was kind of neat being in this class with everybody. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging. We were there because we wanted to be there."
The class was strictly centered on the ceremony, Glickman said. "It is specifically a ritual class. They're learning the Hebrew, they're learning the prayers and how to recite them in Hebrew, and then, ultimately, how to read them from the Torah scrolls."
Glickman said adults have to be particularly motivated. "The students in the class are so courageous because it's absolutely humiliating to learn how to read Hebrew when you're an adult," he said.
"If you look at it, it's (Hebrew) completely foreign, every character is different. And here you have a grown woman -- she's an accomplished woman, she's been successful in life -- and now she comes in this classroom and ... basically learning to read, like a 2-year-old and 3-year-old would be doing," he explained. "But the class has this bond and a camaraderie builds very quickly."
About two or three people each year go through the ceremony, he said. Another woman, Eve Moor, also of Lakewood Ranch, became a bat mitzvah on Friday. She declined to be interviewed.
Gilburne said she will feel differently after she reads from the Torah in front of the congregation. "Definitely. It's a major accomplishment if I can get through Friday night," she said earlier this week. "I know it now, down pat. If I can get through it with no mistakes, I will be totally psyched," she said.
Her family has been very supportive. "And my parents are out-of-their-tree excited," she added. "It is amazing, it's a blessing. I have both my parents still here with me to watch this on Friday. It's awesome."
It was a celebration for the whole congregation, Glickman said. "Cin's very special at the temple. Her exuberance and her love she wears very openly. This is not a just a personal event. This is a congregation that is very excited for her and for us. We are all taking pride in her and what she's done."
Temple Emanu-El is at 151 McIntosh Road, Sarasota.