“When I started cantorial school at Hebrew College, one of the questions I hear most often is, “How did a woman from an Orthodox community end up becoming a cantor?” I often cite my bat mitzvah as one of the early catalysts: my first experience of leading in a Jewish context, and a foundation for future Jewish leadership.
My bat mitzvah was far from typical, both for my community at the time and for the more liberal Jewish communities to which I belong today. At my family’s Modern Orthodox shul in Miami Beach, Florida, girls were not permitted to lead services or to read from the Torah. When it came time to plan my bat mitzvah, however, my parents offered me the option of learning to lead services and read Torah. For my family this was not so far out of the ordinary, because despite belonging to a non-egalitarian shul, we held to egalitarian values at home. So in addition to the usual speech, kiddush, and party, my parents and I decided to hold a women-only shabbat mincha service in our home. And every Shabbat afternoon for months, my father and I squeezed into the big brown armchair in my bedroom with a tikkun spread across our laps, chanting the verses of my Torah portion together. My father taught me how to leyn and how to chant the nusach for Shabbat mincha, and helped me write the speech that I would give in shul on Shabbat morning. The only blemish on this proud moment was that my father couldn’t be in the room to watch me lead it. He stood in the next room with my cousins, peeking in through the crack in the door.”
(Cantor Sarah Bolts was ordained in 2016 by The School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College)