The bat mitzvah turns 100: Meet the oldest celebrant in Canada—and one of the youngest

Miriam Lieff, left, standing with her father Abraham Lieff, is believed to be the first woman in Canada to celebrate her bat mitzvah; Naomi Hochman, right, celebrates hers on the 100-year anniversary of the bat mitzvah itself. (Photos courtesy of Ellin Bessner and the Hochman family.)

On March 19, 12-year-old Naomi Hochman will celebrate her bat mitzvah at Winnipeg’s Shaarey Zedek synagogue. And while she’s the first girl in her family to have a bat mitzvah—her older brothers had theirs, and she just took for granted she would enjoy one too—bat mitzvahs are in fact a relatively new phenomenon.

Naomi’s bat mitzvah actually takes place on the 100-year anniversary of the very first bat mitzvah in North America. The daughter of an American reconstructionist rabbi, Judith Kaplan, earned that distinction on March 18, 1922.

In Canada, what is believed to be the first bat mitzvah wouldn’t take place until decades later, in 1949. Miriam Lieff led a Friday night service at Agudath Israel Synagogue in Ottawa, paving the way for generations of Canadian girls to take a more egalitarian role in Jewish religious life. Now 86, Lieff joins to recall her experience during a time when girls weren’t even allowed to stand on the bimah—and Naomi will talk about how she feels carrying that torch so many years later.

What we talked about:


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