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Beneath the Surface: a Program for Bat Mitzvah Girls and their Mothers

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
5+ years
Target audience
Experiential Learning

Mothers and their pre-teen daughters have very different, although at times overlapping, needs. Beneath the Surface enhances the Bat Mitzvah experience, providing a nurturing and safe context to engage with one another. This program complements what in America has become a largely communal celebration with opportunities for intimate, private, creative expression.

Moms and girls participate in engaging activities within a warm and inclusive environment. Fostering their bond provides a secure foundation prior to the changes of the teen years, creates confident young women who feel a strong connection to their mothers and their Judaism, and highlights family strengths.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Beneath the Surface presents meaningful Jewish content in non-judgmental and accessible ways that welcome in a variety of learners and families from multiple backgrounds, including those who may be marginalized and excluded from Jewish life, i.e. those from interfaith families, the LGBTQ community, interracial families and those from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

Beneath the Surface assumes that participants can be co-creators of their own ritual experiences, giving them the tools, time, and space to form their own rituals.

In this space, mothers and daughters connect with each other (mother to mother, daughter to daughter, and mother to daughter), with Jewish history, and with Jewish ritual, both ancient and new. Mothers and daughters learn about mikveh as a meaningful ritual expression, and create their own, personal rituals linked to Bat Mitzvah. Finally, mothers serve as positive role models (whether Jewish or not) by engaging in Jewish learning and expression along with their daughters.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Beneath the Surface is accessible to participants in the following ways:
- Leadership: Beneath the Surface has multiple facilitators, one who will resonate specifically with the moms and another who will appeal to the girls.
- Language: the leadership does not make assumptions about participants' background knowledge and translates any Hebrew used. Publicity explicitly states that those from interfaith and LGBTQ backgrounds are welcome.
- Knowledge: prior to the beginning of each new cohort, we survey participants to learn about their unique family backgrounds. This allows us to be sensitive to which moms may not be Jewish, or married, or straight, or married to someone Jewish, who may have had a recent death in the family, etc.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Participants consistently give Beneath the Surface high ratings in their evaluations. In our 2015 cohort, 100 percent of participants said the program met or exceeded their expectations, rating their overall satisfaction with the program as a 6.0 out of 6.0. 100 percent of participants said they would recommend the program to a friend.

Here are some quotes from past participants in the program:

"I came here having no idea what it was going to be like and thinking that it was way too early to start doing Bat Mitzvah prep programs since I just got my date. During this program my Bat Mitzvah came into sight beautifully and I felt like I realized that I had lots of support in this journey (my mom, others, and even the others in this program in a way)."

“It was so good to come and connect with my daughter, putting aside all of the other things going on – Bat Mitzvah or otherwise, just to be the two of us without everyday commitments competing for our interest in time, in a space where the facilitators are open, encouraging and non-judgmental.”

Another mother called in to share this story, crying while she recounted what happened the night before with her twin daughters who had participated in Beneath the Surface:

“I walked into their room and they were on their knees by their beds. They told me they were praying, first saying things they were grateful for and then saying a misheberach for friends of ours who are ill. Afterwards they said the Sh’ma. When I came in they asked me to join them. They created this whole thing completely on their own, and I know it was because of their experience at Beneath the Surface.

After that time, they said they wanted me to do this ritual with them every night. I’m just completely blow away, so taken by surprise.

They have never done anything like this before, and I know was the combination of being in such a sacred space, and how you and all of the teachers had so much acceptance and respect in the way you spoke to us, and in the way you designed the program.

Beneath the Surface created the space they needed to take that inspiration home with them. You really made us feel that whatever you say, whatever you are is exactly right, which is not something you get out there in the world, it’s very rare to find that. Thank you so much.”

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

We believe that Jewish ritual, whether Bat Mitzvah or immersion in the mikveh, or lighting Shabbat candles, can provide grounding, connection, and meaning in one's life. We also believe that each person can access these rituals and bring their own meaning to them, shaping and making them their own.