Women draw meaning from Torah portion


The Torah portion Vayiggash has a very special meaning for Linda Rosenblatt and Cindy Schuval. The two friends were recently called to the Torah as adult b’not mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Amoona. First of all, it is the same Torah portion Linda’s husband Michael and each of their four children had for their b’nai mitzvah. Also, the portion includes the line “…it is God who sent me [to this place].” The women believe it was divine intervention that brought them together.

In 1992, Michael was the vice president of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kirkwood. David Schuval was visiting from New York. He had been recruited to be on staff at the hospital. As the only Jew on staff, Michael had been asked to greet the new doctor and show him around. When the entire family moved to town, the two couples went out together to dinner and a show at the Muny.

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“The musical had a lot of glitzy costumes,” Linda said. “Cindy turned to me and said, ‘so which one do you think would look the best on us?’ From that moment I knew we would be the best of friends.”

The families have grown quite close over the years. They have dinner together every Friday night. Both families joined B’nai Amoona and are actively involved in the synagogue. Though they each grew up with a different level of religious observance, neither woman had the opportunity to be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah when they were younger.

Linda is a native St. Louisian who grew up at Temple Israel at a time when time girls didn’t attend Hebrew school and weren’t allowed to have a bat mitzvah. She was able to take a year of Hebrew while she attended Parkway Central High School. Cindy grew up in New York at an Orthodox congregation and went to Yeshiva through sixth grade and learned Hebrew. She wanted to have a bat mitzvah but her rabbi said no.

The B’nai Amoona Sisterhood sponsored an adult b’nai mitzvah class a few years ago that attracted more than 25 people including Cindy and Linda. The two-year course met once a week with students learning about the Shabbat morning liturgy, holidays, life cycle, Hebrew and trope. All the students opted to extend the class for a third year though not every student wanted to have a ceremony.

“I always wanted to have a bat mitzvah,” Cindy said. “Also my daughter Jaime’s bat mitzvah is in three months. I wanted to be able to read Torah at her bat mitzvah and help her with her preparations.”

Linda and Cindy knew they wanted to actually participate and lead Shabbat morning services and “prepare for a bat mitzvah just like the kids do.”

“I didn’t miss having a bat mitzvah when I was younger,” Linda said. “I’ve taught the pre-bar/bat mitzvah class here for three years now and decided it was time to put my money where my mouth is. We expect a lot of these kids and now it is my turn.”

The two friends studied and prepared just like their younger counterparts. They had homework from cantorial soloist Sharon Nathanson and reflected on the Torah portion with Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose and prepared their speeches. They also decided on a very special mitzvah project designed to keep on giving to other learners.

They established an endowment fund at the synagogue entitled “Vishiinantam Levanecha: Teach them diligently to your children” and asked friends and families to make donations to it in lieu of gifts. The fund will be used to provide the necessary assistance for children and adults with learning differences to be able to “learn through the methods that work best for them.”

“The fund may be used to purchase books on tape, large print materials or provide shadows for kids in classrooms,” Cindy said. “There is no limit on how it can be used. We wanted it to be as flexible as possible to find ways to provide the necessary assistance for all learners.”

Both women are very involved and knowledgeable about children and adults with special learning challenges. Linda earned a bachelor of science in special education from the University of Missouri and has been teaching in a religious school setting for over 30 years. Cindy has observed the need for special accommodations through her active involvement in many aspects of the congregation and community.

“B’nai Amoona has always been interested in inclusion,” Rose said. “This fund will help assure the theory and the practice can come together. The generosity of these two women is an inspiration to all of us.”

On the Shabbat of their b’not mitzvah the two friends were surrounded by family and friends — old and new. They each spoke about the meaning of the special day and their accomplishments and some of the teachings they drew from the Torah portion.

“Vayiggash — stepping up with a strong commitment to live by your beliefs,” Cindy said. “This is why I stand here today, finally accomplishing a lifelong dream.”

Linda agreed.

“A parent can’t just drop a kid off at the synagogue and expect them to become good little Jews without their help,” Linda said. “I took that to heart and promised myself I would never do that to any children I would have…Vayiggash — so we stood up.”

Published Jan. 16, 2008