The crowd that gathered for Gali Isaacson’s bat mitzva was over 500 people — bigger than most — and, as she read in her D’var Torah, they were “all part of my family.” Impressive, especially as most of them were under 20 years old.
Isaacson celebrated her bat mitzva last weekend at Emma Kaufmann Camp, not her family’s synagogue Rodef Shalom, and the bulk of the crowd was campers and counselors — only her closest blood relatives were in attendance.
“We did the traditional, conventional bar mitzva three years ago,” said Lindsey Isaacson, Gali’s mother. “But when it came time to plan Gali’s, she just loved being at camp. That’s where her Jewish identity comes from.”
So began a year and a half of planning for an admittedly unorthodox bat mitzva at camp. Holding events like b’nai mitzva and weddings at summer camps is a slowly growing trend, but most are held in the off-season. Gali’s bat mitzva is the first held when camp was in session in years, said EKC Director Sam Bloom.
“We have friends who’ve gone to Israel or to Europe for their kids’ bat mitzvas, but we wanted to find something that really fit Gali the best,” said Isaacson. “Camp is part of the fabric of her life. Her dearest friendships were born from camp. It felt right for her and it felt right for us.”
The Isaacson family sponsored an ice cream snack for the camp on Friday, and Gali, with the help of her bunkmates, led the Saturday morning services before she read her Torah portion. Family members were called to the wooded bima for aliyot, and “the kids were very participatory in the service,” said Isaacson.
The camp was treated to a reception of peace sign-adorned cupcakes and fruit after the service, followed by Israeli dancing.
Though the bat mitzva was held outside the walls of a synagogue, Isaacson said, “this was the epitome of what a bat mitzva should be. We weren’t hung up on catering and pastries on platters and who wore what and who came late. All of that nonessential stuff that seems to become part of the experience was absent.”
“The music, the weather, being outside. There are a lot of things you don’t get when you’re in shul,” he said.
Isaacson said that though many people were surprised with their plans, friends were largely in their support.
“The initial response of everyone we told was ‘Really?’ or ‘How is that going to work?’ ” she said. “But the more they dove into it, people thought it was a great idea. People were definitely curious as to how we would do this in the middle of the woods outside Morgantown. We were too, actually.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)