Sara Hurwitz grew up in South Africa, where she attended Jewish day school. When she was 13, Sara and her family moved to the United States.
In college, Sara became a leader in the Jewish community on campus, and after graduation she decided to continue her studies so that she could become a religious leader. For eight years, she studied Torah and halakhah (Jewish law) and learned how to answer people’s questions about Judaism. When she was finished, she had completed the same training as a male rabbi, but as an Orthodox woman, she was not allowed to use the title “rabbi.”
In March 2009, Sara received the title of “Maharat,” the Hebrew words for “a leader in spiritual and religious matters.” As she began working in new congregations and communities, people were confused. Was she a rabbi or something different? In some cases, people were even disrespectful because they felt that an Orthodox woman should not perform the job of a rabbi.
In the summer of 2009, Sara’s teacher Rabbi Avi Weiss officially changed her title from "Maharat" to "Rabba," a female rabbi. Though some celebrated this as a victory for women’s rights in the Orthodox community, others were upset. In response to the controversy, Rabbi Weiss publicly agreed not to grant the title of "Rabba" to any other women.
While Sara points out that there are many women who serve their communities without being called “Rabba,” she believes that the title is important because it shows that an Orthodox woman can be a leader on the same level as a man. Through studying Judaism and serving their communities, Sara and her fellow female leaders continue to expand the definition of women’s roles in Orthodox Judaism.
At Sara's school is South Africa, the entire class prepared together for bat mitzvah. Two years beforehand, they took a course about the Jewish lifecycle, Shabbat, kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), and holidays. At the end of the class, Sara and her classmates had to take a two-hour test. Sara also did research projects on Sarah and Golda Meir. In addition to her school projects, she sewed a challah cover to use on Shabbat. (Her parents still have it!).
The culmination of her preparation was a performance where she and 50 other girls wore matching dresses and presented a play related to the Purim story. All of the girls had parties on the same day, so Sara didn’t get to go to anyone else’s party except her own.
Sara says that the process of preparing for her bat mitzvah, of learning about Judaism with her community, was more significant than the day itself. She thinks that “bat mitzvah should be something you achieve,” and that the important thing about having a bat mitzvah is that you feel good about what you have accomplished.