'Yusuf' Celebrates a Bar Mitzvah

Last year, 'Yusuf' and his 7 brothers and sisters looked like Arab children. Today he is Yosef, a Bar Mitzvah; his siblings are in Jewish schools.

Hana Levi Julian , | updated: 19:10

"Yusuf" is a Bar Mitzvah now
"Yusuf" is a Bar Mitzvah now
Israel news photo: Sharon Srur

Less than a year ago, "Yusuf" and his seven brothers and sisters looked like any other Arab children -- a far cry from the dramatic transformation that was obvious last Thursday, when a Yosef with shining eyes made his blessing at the Torah as a member of the minyan.

Not one eye was dry as all beheld the change wrought in the new Bar Mitzvah boy and his brothers and sisters, who were now quite obviously back in the Jewish fold.

The workers from the Yad L'Achim organization who had rescued them together with their mother from the heart of the Muslim Quarter in the Old City in Jerusalem said they were stunned when they saw the conditions they were living in.

It was in the month of Tamuz, and the summer had just gotten a grip on the ancient, winding alleys of the Old City. The family was living in the heart of an Arab clan, and the children knew no Hebrew whatsoever -- not one word.

For 17 years, N. lived as an Arab woman and raised her eight children under appalling conditions. She suffered silently, had quietly lived with the terrible fear, the vicious threats from her Arab husband and his family as she raised her eight children, a Jewish woman friendless and alone.

She herself was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who succumbed at an early age to cancer, leaving N. a lonely orphan who fell in with the wrong crowd, a group of Arab friends, and eventually, an Arab clan that surrounded her and hid her from view in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

Soon her own little ones were growing up as Arabs, with no connection to Jewish culture, and she was powerless to prevent it, or so it seemed.

But with their rescue two years ago from the Muslim Quarter -- an operation made possible due to the fact that her Muslim husband was serving jail time for criminal offenses -- a new life began for the family.

Once N. and her children had been moved to a well-equipped, protected apartment, Yad L'Achim workers became more familiar with the terrible situation of the children. They termed it "incomprehensible."

"With the patience of steel, and a supreme effort, the entire family was taken through extensive and intensive rehabilitation," explained Yad L'Achim officials. Social workers and other social service officials worked together to provide support.

After consultation it was also decided to move the children to religious boarding schools, "where educators gathered their spiritual strength for the purpose of getting them back on their feet and back into the light," said the organization.

The results culminated in last Thursday's Bar Mitzvah.

"The brothers and sisters looked like beautiful Jewish children; the words of Heaven are in their mouths, and awe of HaShem (G-d) is their Treasure," said Rabbi Alex Artovski, who ran the event.

The Bar Mitzvah boy was equally moved, especially when it came time to wrap the long leather straps of his tefillin around his arm and his head, and say, "I will forever to You be betrothed."

Excited family members leaped on the Yad L'Achim workers who had accompanied them through their difficult ordeal, thanking them for their new world, and all their assistance. When the Bar Mitzvah boy went up to the Torah, and proclaimed the words, "Who chose us from among the nations and gave us His Torah," not one eye remained dry.

Yad L'Achim director Rabbi Shalom Dov Lipshitz said, "The soul of the grandmother, who braved the horrors of the Holocaust, and stormed the Heavens in her anguish, today came with joy to witness her grandson going reverently up to the Torah, to see these happy moments."

Rabbi Lipshitz offered his wishes to the Bar Mitzvah boy that he grow up to marry and become a "glorious" Torah scholar, together with all of his brothers and sisters in the ways of Israel and his forefathers.