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Jewish Journal

Like Grandmother,Like Granddaughter

by Gaby Wenig

August 8, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Eileen and Chiara Greene. Photo by Sir Harrison

Eileen and Chiara Greene. Photo by Sir Harrison

"I really didn't want to do it" said Chiara Greene, 16, of her bat mitzvah. "When I was 12, it really did not seem that important to me. I was not religion oriented, and I didn't want to do something that I didn't completely understand."

Those were not words that Chiara's father, Richard Greene, wanted to hear. "I kept telling her you are Jewish, you are my daughter, and I want you to have this experience," he said.

Chiara was no pushover, so it took Richard three years and a "secret weapon" to convince his daughter to have a bat mitzvah.

What finally caused her to cave was that her father had found her a partner to be bat mitzvahed with -- his 73-year-old mother, Eileen.

"When I realized that my grandmother was going to do it, and my dad was not going to give up, I decided it was time to start learning," said Chiara.

The last time Eileen Greene had learned Hebrew was when she was 9 years old, and attended a Hebrew class for two weeks. Chiara's Jewish experience also stopped when she was 9, and she moved to Santa Fe, N.M., with her mother. This time around, the grandmother and granddaughter started learning Hebrew about a year ago, so that they would be able to read from the Torah at their bat mitzvahs.

"Learning Hebrew was very difficult at the beginning, but once I got the hang of it, it became a lot easier," Chiara said.

"Among the many obstacles I had to overcome while learning Hebrew were the 'senior moments' that lasted for more than moments -- they lasted for days!" Eileen said. "It was so embarrassing. You would read it one morning and say it was wonderful, and by the evening you didn't quite remember it all."

In June, both Chiara and Eileen were called up to the Torah in a unique grandmother/granddaughter bat mitzvah ceremony at Temple Isaiah.

"I was scared to death," Eileen said. "I was afraid of making a fool of myself. I did make a few mistakes, but when I was doing it, I was just doing it. When I said 'Amen' at the end, I had the funniest look on my face, like 'phew!'"

"It was completely nerve-wracking," Chiara said. "I was shaking, and once it was over, I was still shaking, but I was relieved."

Despite the nerves, both found the experience to be immensely gratifying.

"I got to see what our religion was like," said Chiara. "I focused, learned the prayers and learnt our heritage. It was an amazing experience to see how far we had come."

"I felt so incredible to be able to read Hebrew, and to finally be able to look at the books in the synagogue and be able to recognize [the words] and not to rely on the English and the transliterations," Eileen said. "Not that I am fluent now, but I can read it. And to be able to look at the Torah and read the words -- even slowly -- is a wonderful feeling."

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