The first Bat Mitzvah in South Bend
Gloria Wolvos remembers moving to South Bend and becoming Bat Mitzvah at Sinai Synagogue.
In 2014, the Michiana Jewish Historical Society and the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley combined efforts to launch a series of oral interviews with members of our community called “Telling Our Stories.” We are pleased to republish some of these stories for the first time outside of the Jewish Federation’s Our Community Newsletter.
With permission of the interviewee, Gloria Wolvos, we present the first interview from “Telling Our Stories.” Gloria chose to tell us a story of her early days in South Bend:
In 1941, when I was 11 years old, my family moved from St. Paul, Minnesota, to South Bend. Back in St. Paul I had gone to a very fine Hebrew school. Arriving in South Bend, I wanted to continue my Hebrew education. So my mother entered me in the South Bend Cheder. I was the only girl in the class, and never before had I been exposed to such terrible behavior. I was shocked every day how disrespectful the boys were to our teacher. Then one day, the boys grabbed the teacher and threw him out a window. Of course, I must tell you, the window was open, and we were on the first floor. So the teacher did not fall very far.
I told my mom what had happened, and that I did not want to return to that class, ever again. My mother knew how I loved my Hebrew education, that I wanted to become a Bat Mitzvah, although it was long before girls became Bat Mitzvahs. I was lucky that Rabbi Parzen offered to teach me privately. So I went to his apartment after school. He lived across from Central High School on Washington Street.
Before long I became the first Bat Mitzvah in South Bend at Sinai Synagogue, in 1943. At the time, women could not touch the Torah. I was assigned prayers, memorized my Torah portion, was on the bimah, it was a big deal to be the first. After me, many girls followed. My daughters were also bat mitzvahed at Sinai.
And that was my introduction to South Bend.
Be on the look out for future “Telling Our Stories” articles from the archive. And please let us know if you would be interested in being interviewed for an article. After all, everyone has a story to tell!