LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ten or so adults sat in a classroom at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings and learned how to speak again.
An 87-year-old volunteer, Norty Bick, who had been raised in a Orthodox Jewish family and immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1939, stood before the beginners as they uttered half words such as “bah” and “gah.”
There, working harder than the others to recite the Hebrew words, despite her struggle to hear Bick’s lectures, 49-year-old Cindy Gilburne, the second-youngest in the room, began her journey to adulthood.
Gilburne and Eve Moor, both Lakewood Ranch residents, celebrated their bat mitzvah Oct. 16, at Temple Emanu-El, in Sarasota.
Gilburne and Moore were the only two adults to become a bar/bat bitzvah at Temple Emanu-El this year.
In Jewish tradition, a 13-year-old child becomes a bar/bat mitzvah and leads a service in prayer and recites Haftarah portions from the Torah, symbolizing his or her entry into adulthood.
As a child growing up in a reformed Jewish home in Westchester, N.Y., Giburne told her parents she wanted to wait to become a bat mitzvah.
“My parents were pretty casual about it and never forced me,” Gilburne said. “They figured when I was ready to come around, I would. And I did. I’m so happy I waited.”
When Gilburne moved, with her husband and children, in 2003 to Lakewood Ranch, she immediately immersed herself in Temple Emanu-El.
Gilburne joined Emanu-El Rabbi Brenner Glickman’s wife, Elaine, during mitzvah days, during which volunteers cleaned the temple, prepared toiletries for the needy and sent cards to Israeli soldiers.
Gilburne is a former president of the temple’s sisterhood for two years and now sits on the group’s 12-member board.
One day, Bick pushed Gilburne to go farther.
“Norty (Bick) says to me, ‘Hey, Cin, do you want to become a bat mitzvah?’” Gilburne said. “I didn’t even have time to think. I’m like, ‘Uh uh.’ Then I looked at my husband and was like, ‘All right, let’s do this.’”
Bick thought he had a tough project ahead of him.
“I was very concerned when we started because of her lack of hearing ability,” Bick said. “I thought, ‘How will she pick up the sounds?’ But Cindy amazed me and worked harder than the other students.”
The yearlong process began with Bick teaching Gilburne the Hebrew alphabet, an elementary step that sometimes defeats adults, Glickman says.
“It’s much harder to learn it as an adult,” Glickman said. “It’s terrible humiliation. It’s embarrassing. These are grown, successful people. You have to be brave with great conviction to do it, and I admire Cindy.”
Gilburne met with the teacher once a week for 30 minutes to work on pronouncing the letters before Bick gave her sheets of paper with her Torah portion.
“At first it was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Gilburne said. “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was overwhelming. It was scary.”
At home, Gilburne began to recite full Hebrew sentences aloud for two hours a day — no exceptions.
“My husband is more excited than I am (for my bat mitzvah) because he has been listening to it every day,” Gilburne joked.
The at-home practice routine carried on until, a few weeks before the service, Bick opened up the Torah atop the bema for Gilburne to experience the real thing.
Less than two weeks before the service, the nerves came.
“I’m nervous like a 13-year-old girl would be nervous,” Gilburne said. “And I have a new outfit. I’m very excited.”
On the night of Nov. 16, Gilburne walked to the bema’s podium, a white tallit, or shawl, around her neck and shoulders, and brought the Torah to life, an adult all grown up.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].