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Kathy Mulcahy

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Kathy Mulcahy

Orange Mayor Kathy Mulcahy holds a Torah at her bat mitzvah in 2009.

Mayor, Orange Village

When Kathy Mulcahy was growing up, it wasn’t that common for Jewish women to become bat mitzvah at age 12, so becoming bat mitzvah as an adult seemed natural to her. Participating in such a ceremony with a group of other adults not only felt good to Mulcahy, it felt right, deepening the Orange mayor’s connection to Judaism and generating long-lasting friendships.

“I had my bat mitzvah in 2009 with Rabbi Rosie Haim at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, and it was a fascinating experience,” Mulcahy says. “I was motivated by a few reasons. I was not expecting some of the benefits that came of it.”

The June bat mitzvah “was a wonderful event, and it was quite thrilling to be reading out of the Torah, (and feeling) a sense of accomplishment, a sense of achievement, a sense of camaraderie,” says Mulcahy, who grew up in Shaker Heights. “We continue to do reunions; sometime in 2015, we had one. So six years later, we still feel like a group, and I made some, I think, lasting connections through the experience.”

The notion of continuity underlies Mulcahy’s bat mitzvah journey.

Her great-grandfather was a rabbi in Kansas City, Mo., she attended religious school at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple through confirmation, so she was comfortable being Jewish. But Mulcahy craved a deeper understanding of Jewish ritual, and experiencing anti-Semitism in 1995 in her first run for mayor only fortified her in that mission.

“Having married a non-Jewish man when I was 21 years old, I’d taken his name, and I don’t have stereotypical Jewish features,” she says. Encountering anti-Semitic comments going from house to house, when planes were being hijacked and terrorists were singling out Jews, rattled her: “This was an ‘aha’ moment for me.”

Such doorway campaign meetings led Mulcahy to dig in her increasingly Jewish heels.

“I wanted to feel more comfortable in and understanding of what the service process was and what I was participating in on Friday nights,” she says. “Now I know what the service means, I know the functionality of a service; the real honor was being able to read out of the Torah. I never got to touch a Torah before.”

Becoming bat mitzvah, Mulcahy stood on the bimah with her parents, proud and fulfilled, fully grasping ritual details – and reading Hebrew, the latter a temporary talent.

“I don’t think I could do it today,” she says of her time-bound linguistic foray. “I stood up, I read it, I knew what it meant at the time. Today I feel a better connection to the process of worship, to the meaning of a service, and more comfortable with being at a service and knowing what I’m saying and why I’m saying it. And this is years after my three daughters were all b’not mitzvah at the right time.

“I had come to the conclusion that being Jewish is how you feel from the inside out and not what others perceive from the outside in.” 

This article appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of  Bar•Bat Mitzvah.