Maddie Wittenberg recently became a Bat Mitzvah with Adventure Judaism. In this essay, she reflects on her year of study.
By Maddie Wittenberg
Can any of you remember your first Bar/Bat Mitzvah or confirmation class? Many of you here, today, might not remember all the details. Did you even remember how you prepared for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a confirmation ceremony? For me, I remember my entire Bat-Mitzvah preparations at Adventure Judaism. It consisted of me meeting with two of my close friends for an hour a week where we had amazing Hebrew classes, which also consisted of learning ancient Hebrew prayers.
But it also included hiking trips! One hiking trip, in particular, was trekking to the top of a 10,000-foot peak in the rain, sun, and even brutal hail. This was my very first Adventure Class where we experienced trekking through various seasons all on the same day, and this was also part of my Bat-Mitzvah training. The purpose of my Adventure B’nai Mitzvah Class was to spiritually connect with nature through Judaism, and learn about myself as well.
When I think about my overall experience in the Adventure B’nai Mitzvah Class, I realize, now, my experiences had their ‘ups and downs’; for example, in one particular adventure class, my classmates and I went snowshoeing. In short, I kept falling on the ice, which made the hike much more challenging for me, but it still was a great class because my classmates and I were hiking as a group, and personally, I love hiking in a natural environment despite dodging icy and muddy terrain or me falling all the time in the natural conditions. Although hiking, at times, was challenging for me, I do remember that once I finished a hike, I felt proud of myself as I began to realize that I can do anything in my life.
As I have told you today, these personal experiences that led me here were anything, but typical. The overall experience of hiking was really hard for me because the environment is always changing; for example, my adventure class and I would hike in either icy or muddy conditions. The other reason why I loved my adventure classes is the long-term friendships I have created. Coming to the end of a hike, we, as a class, deepened our friendships even more and learned more about each other and why we were hiking in nature.
Most religious classes are not done outside in nature, and it was really meaningful to me that my adventure classes were so different from regular classes. During our long hikes, we learned what success meant to ourselves and what our future goals were. For example, one of my goals is to become more active in my community so I can develop and define what success means to me in the future. In other words, I want to help people who are in need, as helping people will only define my personal success even more.
Another extraordinary Adventure Class with my classmates was our Passover camping trip in Moab with other members of our congregation. I loved the experience so much that I want to tell you a little bit about it. The first part of our Moab Passover trip was we went on a moonlight hike where we furthered our already established friendships. We then stopped under the Corona Arch and talked about the community and the importance of Judaism as a part of our everyday lives. The next day, we went on another beautiful hike in the desert without cell phones, while absorbing the majestical and natural views. We walked through mountainous terrains and saw so many beautiful parts of nature. We stopped and had a ceremony on a beautiful plateau in the desert. We sang ancient prayers and songs, and read passages from the Torah. It was a great time. After that, we returned from our day hike and prepared for our Passover Seder. We had our Passover dinner, chanted prayers and heard some beautiful speeches. It was incredible sitting in the dirt and having our Seder. It was so special getting to meet new people our age and from everywhere else.
All these adventure experiences and lessons taught me the importance of personal growth, and I would like to summarize some important experiences from my Bat-Mitzvah training and adventure classes. First, I don’t think I would have become so close to my Jewish culture and heritage without having these wonderful experiences with Adventure Judaism. I learned that no matter where I am in life, I will always have my Jewish community to support me in my endeavors. Second, I learned that even though I had my “ups and downs” or challenges in my adventure classes, I always had my congregation to support me through those challenges. Lastly, my overall experience in my adventure classes taught me that whatever road I walk, I will have my Jewish values to guide me along the way. And without these learning experiences, I wouldn’t have realized the importance of Judaism is in my life.
We invite you to learn more about the online and in-person B’nai Mitzvah program or our Passover in Moab retreat.