The synagogue at Wexner Heritage Village was overflowing with family, friends and fellow assisted-living residents Saturday, May 22, as seven bat mitzvah "girls" became women.

The synagogue at Wexner Heritage Village was overflowing with family, friends and fellow assisted-living residents Saturday, May 22, as seven bat mitzvah "girls" became women.

The women, ages 81 to 93, nervously sat through prayers as they waited their turn to read from the Torah and to tell the audience why the day was special.

The residents of Creekside at the Village, the independent and assisted-living facility at Heritage, participated in the b'not mitzvah (plural of bat mitzvah) service about 70 to 80 years after the traditional age for a bat mitzvah: 12 years old.

When these women were 12, a Jewish girl typically did not receive a bat mitzvah. The practice did not become widespread until the late '50s, according to Rabbi Cary Kozberg.

"I was confirmed and graduated from Sunday school," said Shirley Irene Yaffe, 85, who would have had her ceremony in August 1936. "No bat mitzvah. I served on the synagogue board for nine years. Still no bat mitzvah."

Last September, Yaffe, along with Shirley Boster, 87, Harriet Korn, 93, Jean Mellman, 86, Naomi Schottenstein, 81, Fagel Shkolnik, 92, and Joyce Simon, 87, began the bat mitzvah process with Kozberg, director of religious life at Heritage.

He said he got the idea to hold an adult bat mitzvah class from a Jewish assisted-living home in Cleveland.

"I decided that it was really time for us to do it," Kozberg said.

The group met weekly and focused on basic Jewish philosophy, the structure of the worship service and understanding the meaning of the Torah passage that the women read during the Shabbat service last Saturday.

Though all participated for different personal reasons, Kozberg said the ceremony was a kind of affirmation.

"All of them said it in different ways, but they felt affirmed as Jewish women," he said. "They felt that at one time in their lives, they were a little more invisible. The practice, when they were growing up, was the place of the Jewish woman was only in the home.

"This was a way of saying, 'In everything I have learned in my life, I affirm being Jewish, and it's important.' No one really said that, but that is what it really was."

Schottenstein, who lived in Bexley for many years, said she immediately became interested in having a bat mitzvah after she saw a sign for the classes.

"It's something I always thought about but always put aside because I was busy," she said. "I was doing volunteer work or raising my family. I worked a little bit. It wasn't a convenient time of my life.

"But now that we're here at Creekside, this opportunity was offered at the building. It was a convenient arrangement."

She said she and her husband had raised their family as conservative Jews, and three of her four children had bar or bat mitzvahs. All but two of her grandchildren have had their bar or bat mitzvahs.

Schottenstein said her bat mitzvah ceremony was a milestone.

"It is kind of like a confirmation, a graduation, that kind of thing," she said.

Simon, who would have had her bat mitzvah in July 1934, said her life took a different route than many of her bat mitzvah peers.

"My parents were not overly religious or traditional; I am not accustomed to it," she said. "I have never been exposed to the grammar and some of the customs I didn't know about. I have lived a little different life than some of the other girls here."

Simon was born in Connecticut, spent time in New York City as a handbag buyer for Bloomingdale's and Macy's and then raised her family in Atlanta. She said she participated in the class because she wanted to learn more about her faith.

"I feel closer to Judaism than I have ever felt," she said. "I have met up with so many people who are so traditional, and I respect it. I admire it, and I could not be that way totally, but I can appreciate it more."

Though the seven bat mitzvah "girls' are now women in their faith, the group plans to continue studying with Kozberg, even after he starts the second adult b'not mitzvah class after the High Holidays in the fall.

"It's never too late to learn, and there is always something more to learn - even for people who have studied their whole lives," Schottenstein said. "There is no end to learning."