Eleven-year-old Chava Freundlich was raised in Beijing. She attends Ganeinu International School, the Jewish day school that her mom Dini founded. Chava comes from a big family; she has two older sisters (19-year-old Mushka and 17-year-old Devora) and three younger siblings: Aaron (age 8), Grunia (7), and Eleh (3). In December, she and Dini started the Bat Mitzvah Club in anticipation of Chava’s 12th birthday. The club brings together Jewish girls aged 11-13 for fun, friendship, and charity. Recently, I went to the Freundlichs’ house to chat with Chava and Dini about the project.
What’s a bat mitzvah?
Chava: It’s a birthday, but it’s not just a birthday. When a Jewish girl turns 12, she takes on the responsibility of becoming a woman. She’s responsible for all her actions.
Dini: In Jewish law, it means you’re an adult. That doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want, it just means that until age 12 for girls and 13 for boys, they’re in the stage of education. If they do something wrong or don’t follow the traditions, they’re still considered to be learning.
What’s the club for?
Chava: The club is where a bunch of girls get together who are around the age of bat mitzvah and every week we do something different, like bowling or skating. We get together to learn about our Jewish heritage and what it means to be a bat mitzvah girl.
Is it going to end with a big celebration?
Chava: Yeah, I think so.
Dini: In May, Chava will have her birthday. That will be near the end of the school year, so there will be a commemoration for all the bat mitzvah girls. I have two older daughters, and this is the second time that we’re doing the Bat Mitzvah Club in Beijing. The really beautiful thing about the club is that all these girls will come together from the full spectrum of the Jewish community of Beijing and discover their Judaism together by having a really fun time. They went ice skating two weeks ago and the message was “If it’s a cold world, how do you warm it up?” They got a thermos with hot chocolate inside and discussed.
What were some of the ideas that you guys came up with?
Chava: Be kinder to others, do what you can do to help the world, helping out in orphanages, doing charity, and stuff like that.
How many people are in the club now?
Dini: Rachel, Chava, Mushka, Liana, Nami, Zoe, Becca, and Keang. So eight girls.
Did you all know each other before you started?
Chava: I knew most of them.
Dini: Zoe and Becca, you met this year. Some of them hang in a close circle, some of them went to school together, some of them just moved to BJ this year. A very broad group of girls.
So far there have been two activities, the bowling and the skating?
Dini: No, we’ve had four activities I think.
Chava: Three. Bowling, ice skating, and dinner with the youth leaders [at Moishe House].
Dini: And actually [last Tuesday we did]the holiday of trees. Basically it’s in thanks and preparation for the spring. [We did] a MasterChef program. We have a women’s club that meets once a month and we invited the Bat Mitzvah girls to be one of the teams. It was the moms versus the girls.
Do you have an idea of what you want to do in May?
Chava: My name is Hebrew for “Eve,” the first woman. There’s the Garden of Eden, so I wanted to make a garden kind of theme.
Dini: The whole theme could be getting the world back to that perfect garden by making the world a better place. That’s the idea that we’re working on.
Are you nervous at all about your bat mitzvah?
Chava: I’m not nervous for the party, I’m pretty excited. But to be a Bat Mitzvah girl? Kinda.
What makes you nervous about it?
Chava: Feels kinda weird to be 12.
Dini: Feels big, huh?
What would you like to tell potential Bat Mitzvah Club girls in the community?
Dini: Are you a fun group?
Should they be nervous about joining?
Chava: No. I love making new friends.
To find out more about the Bat Mitzvah Club, contact Dini at email@example.com or 135 0130 3439.
Photo: Uni You