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A Matriarch's Tomb Is a Great Spot For a Bat Mitzva

The hot new bat mitzva spot is at a grave sight, the supposed grave sight of the Biblical matriarch Rachel, to be exact. Or so the builders of the new World Bat Mitzva Center, adjacent to Rachel’s Tomb, wish it to be:
“Organizers hope the new center will help Rachel’s Tomb acquire the same allure for girls coming of age as the Western Wall holds for boys,” the JPost reports. The center’s owner, Chaim Silberstein, said, “We would like to make our building at Rachel’s Tomb the ultimate venue for a young Jewish woman” and that he hoped it “would answer a very important need in the Jewish world.”

But the need he is addressing is not the lack of an ultimate bat mitzva venue, which, let’s face it, is not something the world actually needs (as if the kotel was just a place boys go to celebrate their bar mitzvas rather than the ultimate destination for everyone who visits Israel).

Not just a Hallmark-ian attempt to commercialize and “brand” a holy site, the World Bat Mitzva Center was established as a political maneuver, to lay definitive Jewish claim to Rachel’s Tomb, which finds itself technically under Israeli control but in the middle of Palestinian territory, “surrounded by concrete barriers and watchtowers.” The tomb is so heavily guarded that the first girl scheduled to hold her bat mitzva at the center, the granddaughter of one of the center’s major donors, was not allowed to do so. The military guards stopped the busload of passengers and would not let them enter the center, allowing them instead to move the food into a dark hallway in the tomb itself.

While dragging holy sites into the political fray is to be expected — holy sites are what the political fray in Israel is about, after all — dragging twelve year old girls into the mix seems a bit
inappropriate. And defining a specific place as the place for young women to celebrate, and a specific Biblical figure as the to identify with, feels a little anti-Jewish. The boys-have-the-kotel, girls-have-Rachel’s-Tomb dichotomy feels a little like worshiping different saints for different purposes.

And yet, it’s a nice idea for girls to feel like they have their own place in Israel, to not have to fend off the crowds at the kotel, and to be able to celebrate in a meaningful way. At the very least I wish they’d come up with a less obvious name than the World Bat Mitzva Center.
The mother of the disappointed bat mitzva girl said she wants her daughter to get married there one day — perhaps by then they’ll have changed the name to the World Jewish Wedding Center.

–Rebecca Honig Friedman