There’s more to the party than just the balloons

Girls celebrating their bat mitzvah year have so much to choose from to help them find meaning from their special day.

By Chandrea Serebro


“Suddenly, as she becomes bat mitzvah, a girl begins to hear the voice of her soul. The needs, yearnings, and feelings of her spiritual inner self are allowed to emerge. She begins to seek meaning, fulfilment, connection, and inspiration. She meets a side to her personality that she never knew existed – a deeper side.” This is both the goal and the mission statement of the Roots bat mitzvah programme, which is offered to all schools and shuls under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi’s Office. Debbie Seeff, who heads up the Roots programme, is constantly looking at the programme to ensure that the Roots programme “becomes this space”, this “platform” from which a bat mitzvah girl can “explore her inner self and connect to her neshoma”.

In a year that can all to easily become focused entirely on the party, décor, invitations, dresses, colour schemes, and more of the trappings of the bat mitzvah year, the Roots programme aims to ensure that the spiritual side of becoming a Jewish woman is given equal focus and importance.

While including fundamental topics such as mitzvah observance, Shabbos, kashrus, chagim, brachot, and other aspects of Jewish observance and life, the syllabus addresses the pressing issue of “becoming” a bat mitzvah – a daughter of the mitzvahs – as opposed to “having” a bat mitzvah – a party or celebration. We focus on showing the girls that they now have choices, ones that will impact them for years to come; ones that can ensure that they remain a strong link in the Jewish chain to which they are privileged to belong.” Choices that, when made with thought and understanding, can impact and enhance the rest of their lives.

Beyond the lessons and content of the syllabus, says Debbie, the girls have a “unique opportunity to connect with their dynamic teacher” (each shul employs a teacher to run the shul’s bat mitzvah group). “These are dynamic, powerful, creative, and inspiring women. And, through them, the participants get to connect to the rabbi and rebbetzin of their shul, other dynamic community members, exposure to Jewish community organisations – and an overarching sense of connection and belonging to their community and shul.”

But it’s also fun, as the programme gives the girls a chance to let their hair down amidst all the learning and growing through the informal programme: outings, challah bakes, chessed opportunities, and the chance to explore their creative and artistic side as well. “But what makes the programme so unique is the connections it creates. It gives girls the opportunity to connect to other girls their age, to have a mentor and role model in their teacher, and to experience an intellectual and spiritual journey throughout the duration of this milestone year that will have them emerge as strong Jewish women in the know.”

“Our wish is that the girl, once exposed to the opportunities and structures that exist within our community, will be able to take initiative and become a participant in more of what goes on in our amazing South African Jewish community.”

Roots also organise events that unite all the different shul groups together, which is often a highlight of the programme. “We try to expose the girls to elements of the community or mitzvah opportunities that they may not know about – like volunteering for chessed programmes, giving ma’aser money (one-tenth to charity) from one’s earnings or gifts – to help the girls take what they have learned throughout the year beyond their bat mitzvah and into their lives going forward.”

“It is an absolute privilege to be involved with girls of this age, at such a pivotal stage in their growth and development. Even more so, the privilege is to work with the unbelievable teachers who run the programmes, who commit themselves so wholeheartedly to shaping the next generation of Jewish women.”

For more information, contact your shul office.

Chabad of Sandton

The combination of Roots as well as the Chabad Bat Mitzvah Club Programme from New York offered at the Chabad of Sandton’s Bat Mitzvah Club makes for a fun and, at the same time, serious programme through which bat mitzvah girls get ready for their big day.

In the programme, girls can use their bat mitzvah year “to grow and learn in a fun, energetic, and positive environment, gaining a deep and meaningful understanding about what it means to become bat mitzvah”, says Penina Minkowitz, Director of Chabad of Sandton’s bat mitzvah programme. “Our goal is to inspire Jewish girls to become confident, smart, thoughtful, proud Jewish women who understand that there is more to their bat mitzvah than just the party.”

“My aim is that each girl walk away absolutely living and loving her Yiddishkeit,” says Penina. It’s important because not only is it the introduction for these girls into how they will live their lives as Jewish women, but it is also a great way to set the tone for them to model their future decisions on as well. “As they enter adulthood, they are encouraged to be aware that each of them has a mission and purpose not only as a Jewish woman, but as a human being; a human being who is responsible and accountable to her family, friends, communities, and the world in general.” This is a big realisation and Penina helps them make sense of this while keeping their individual sense of identity and personality as well.

Each class is a get-together that includes learning, food, crafts, and socialising with girls who live near them, daven with them, and who are experiencing the same milestone. And the already exciting programme of learning is spiced up by fun and unique extra events and activities – a hamentaschen bake, an Amazing Race, a mum-and-daughter challah bake, and a variety of crafts which give the girls a chance to express their own creativity. “Together we decide on a special chessed initiative that as a group we can implement and thereby give of ourselves and learn the importance of paying it forward.”

Perhaps most importantly, says Penina, is that the group’s number is limited. This is done purposefully in order to give each girl a chance to truly shine in her own uniqueness.

The culmination of the programme is a ceremony and a special event, which brings the girls and their families together to celebrate the months of learning and growth they have just completed, and to salute their accomplishment. Each girl receives a certificate and a gift from the shul. “Of course, our deepest hope and prayer is that this ceremony that marks the end of the programme is merely a doorway that will lead the girls into an ever-growing, proud relationship with our beautiful heritage and her own Yiddishkeit.”

For more information, email:, or call: Penina 082-858-8819


In keeping with so many of the inspiring projects that The Emunah Ladies Beit Midrash run, it is not surprising that they run a very special bat mitzvah programme for Jewish girls in grade 6 that is increasingly popular among the girls. “The programme is not associated with any particular school, which makes it special and means that we get a wonderful cross section of girls, enabling new and long-lasting friendships and exposure to people you otherwise might not have met,” says Melissa Chipkin and Hilary Segal who oversee the programme.

The programme has been running for 12 years and, each year, the team at Emunah polishes and perfects the content to give the girls a year of diverse learning as they become young Jewish women. This keeps it new and exciting and fresh, without repetition from year to year. “We are so blessed in our community to have such a variety of unbelievable and inspiring people who are always willing to share their talents and expertise with our eager young minds.”

The year begins with laying down goals for the coming year and for life in general. The girls then go on to learn a variety of topics, both religious and secular, including the value of good middos, being a true friend, Shabbos, Jewish women, Jewish identity, gratitude, breaking boundaries, hashgacha pratis, and a love for the State of Israel. “We have two very special sessions where we invite all the mums to make challah with us and another where the dads join us in a fun, cultural evening.” This brings the family together and helps the girl’s parents understand and relate to the way that she is growing, and so a part of them may join her on this journey too.

The programme culminates with an “intimate ceremony” where the girls get the chance to showcase different aspects of what they have learned throughout the year and the various chesed projects that they have undertaken. The event is the highlight of the year, a coming of age for the girls and their graduation into womanhood. “There are so many different options available to girls these days, and not every course is for every girl. But, at Emunah, we try our best to be inclusive, to have a range of subjects and experiences and, of course, have a lot of fun while learning and growing into beautiful batei Yisrael.”

For more information, call: 011 786 7718, or email:

Torah Academy

The programme used in Torah Academy for the bat mitzvah girls is an unbelievable opportunity for these girls to explore their Judaism while they journey into becoming Jewish women. The programme, explains Sorale Rodal, who has headed it up for many years, was compiled by a Chabad woman in the USA and was created for frum girls who are already living an orthodox lifestyle and need to learn on a deeper level.

The programme is run throughout the grade 6 year, and, even though for some their actual bat mitzvah birthday has passed, while for others it’s a run up to the event, there is no doubt that the girls experience a profound and positive impact on their lives and their Judaism by the end of the year.

The programme covers topics such as the reason behind bat mitzvah, Tehillim, the neshama, Shabbos, kashrus, women’s obligations, and more. It’s taught in school, weekly, and each month the topic they are learning is consolidated with a Saturday night meeting – melaveh malka – in one of the girl’s homes. At these events the girls themselves run the meeting, and there is a guest speaker and often a game or craft. This makes the topic more practical and applicable to them, lets them have fun, connect, and create memories at the same time. “The concept behind the programme is to view themselves differently once they’ve turned bat mitzvah, through the topics that are covered and the experiences that the girls have on the programme, and of course the connections they make.”

For more information, email:

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