Photography by Steve Conroy
While Torah learning, planning and preparation for a girl’s Bat Mitzvah can be intense and ripe with anticipation, imagine all that goes into a double Bat Mitzvah, or B’not Mitzvah. This is exactly what was celebrated in August 2016 by twin sisters Yael and Serena, daughters of Pace and Aileen Cooper. “We had a full weekend for the girls,” says proud dad, Pace Cooper. “We had Friday night dinner at Baron Hirsch with friends and family, lunch at a friend’s house on Shabbos, followed by an evening of festivities on Sunday.”
Sunday at Baron Hirsch, 325 friends and family danced, ate and celebrated in honor of Yael and Serena.
“Yael and Serena stood side-by-side to give a fantastic presentation centered around their learning,” says Pace. “Because they were coming of age as a woman, they thought it would be fun and productive to focus their studies on Jewish women heroes – in the Tanach and from modern times. In their Dvar Torah, the girls spoke illuminatingly about the heroes they studied.”
The girl’s focused on just a few of the many inspiring women who have changed the course of Jewish history.
“After studying many historical female figures this past year, we’d like to let you in on a little secret: perhaps the strongest, most thoughtful leaders of B’nei Yisrael were themselves women, and are ones we connect with and admire the most,” remarked Yael during the presentation. “The truth is Jewish women have been making choices and leading our people from the beginning. The first human to make a choice in the Torah was Chava. You may not agree with her choice, but as a result, we get to make our own choices – some easy, others not so much. And while women’s roles have grown and shifted, our wisdom always shines through. From Tanach times to modern day, women have deeply influenced the way we think, pray, and act.”
Rather fittingly, the girls spoke about two key women: Yael and Dvorah. “A great example of a bold, influential Jewish woman is my namesake – Yael,” she said. “In fact, Yael is so bold that she single-handedly assassinated General Sisera while he was asleep. Yael was courageous and decisive. She was a woman of action who did not wait for someone else to take charge.
“Dvorah was one of our seven prophetesses and also one of the chief judges of the Jewish people,” Yael continued. “Dvorah offered logical advice and shared her wisdom with the entire nation. In fact, people came from all around to speak with her. Even though Israel had military leaders, she was known as the leader of the people. … Dvorah was called the “Wife of Flames,” because her passion to judge the nation fairly was like a fire burning inside of her.”
From biblical times, the girls then spoke about powerful and empowering women from more modern times. “Golda Meir broke new ground for women when she became Prime Minister,” remarked Serena.
“Golda Meir was known to be tough, honest and straightforward; yet she was also a skilled diplomat. Golda had an amazing way of leading the people through difficult times. She was called the “Iron Lady of the Middle East” in Israeli politics. … Golda, a pioneering woman, was one of the greatest heroes of the 20th Century.
“But Golda wasn’t the only one with vision. … Chana Senesh was one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever studied,” continued Serena. “She was truly determined to make her dreams a reality. Chana Senesh was a Hungarian, Zionist, paratrooper and poet from Budapest. She was also a risk-taker who always chose her people’s future over her own. As a paratrooper, she parachuted into important situations during the war and was killed because she would not reveal anything to the Nazis. We can learn much about dedication, devotion and vision from Chana Senesh.”
After their presentation, Yael and Serena then made a grand entrance into the party.
“Once Aileen told me that both girls love everything about horses,” said event planner Janis Kiel, “I immediately envisioned both Serena and Yael ‘riding’ into the party and being introduced on horses… not real ones, of course! The next task was to convince Aileen that it was even possible!
“Each girl also chose a favorite color for their special day. Luckily, the girls’ choices were so apropos for what we wanted to achieve,” said Janis. “So, blue, pink and silver ruled the day. With that in mind, we began to plan.”
“Everything centered around horses and horseback riding, “said Pace. “We even had horseshoe cookies for dessert.”
“With her love for something unique, Aileen envisioned exotic but simple flowers and décor,” said Janis. “Gina, from Hollidays Flowers, was quick to provide options perfect for the occasion. Of course, we had to incorporate boots and cowgirl hats overflowing with flowers for centerpieces and lots of fanciful linens.”
With the theme and décor setting the tone for a fun evening, guests enjoyed a delicious dinner by Chef Erling Jenson and spirited dancing. “Erling is a phenomenal chef and did a great job that night and the entire weekend,” says Pace. “The group from New York, Shimi2Jewmba, had never been here before. Shimi Adar is a dancing and singing enthusiast and ruach specialist, her husband, Daniel, is a great DJ. Accompanied by four young collegiate ladies, they played games and danced with the guests. The group has a unique new show and dancing went late into the night, it really was fun!”
“Aileen was so honest with me from the beginning,” said Janis. “She explained that she had planned her children’s previous events by herself, but wanted some help with this one. And, because she and I listened to one another’s thoughts and ideas, we worked extremely well together. I was honored that she chose me as her working partner for such a special lifetime event for the family. Together, along with Pace, the “team” made dreams come true for the girls, their family and friends. The best part for me was really getting to know Aileen and Pace! There are so many wonderful people that you know peripherally, but I felt as if I had made two new friends!”
“We’ve planned bar mitzvahs with our four sons, so we had the drill down,” says Pace. “But this was different. I feel like the girls were able to focus on their presentation, they really got into concentrating on their learning. It was wonderful to see.”