Colel Chabad in Jerusalem will host on Monday a mega bar mitzvah celebration for 113 orphaned boys and their families.
The youngsters come from throughout Israel and will gather at the Western Wall (Kotel), where they will receive their own set of tefillin and be called up to recite the blessing on the Torah as it read aloud either by the bar mitzvah boy himself or a Torah reader.
Rabbi Sholom Duchman, the international director of Colel Chabad, explained that many of these boys “don’t want to go a synagogue for their bar mitzvah because they don’t have their fathers, and the father is a major figure in the synagogue.”
“They want to stay away from [the ceremony]. But having a bar mitzvah with other kids in the same situation gives them the push so that they want to do it,” he said.
The bar mitzvah mega-event is held annually a few days before the Hebrew birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the 11th day of the month of Nissan. Originally, the group bar mitzvah program was offered to boys whose families had emigrated from the former Soviet Union.
The first event of this kind was held in 1992 to mark the 90th birthday of the Rebbe, but given that there is no longer mass aliyah from Russia and its surrounding countries, Colel Chabad identified another group of boys in need, those who have lost a parent.
After the ceremony at the Kotel, which is open to the public, the boys and their families (each boy can invite 10 guests) will travel to Binyanei Hauma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center, for a private banquet.
There, they will be joined by Israel’s chief rabbis, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, as well as local politicians from across the spectrum, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein; Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen; Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
The boys and their families will have their photos taken, enjoy a festive dinner with music and entertainment, and receive a special bar mitzvah gift.
The celebration is just one of the programs that Colel Chabad runs for orphans under its Chesed Menachem Mendel program, according to Rabbi Menachem Traxler, the agency’s director of volunteering.
“We currently have more than 800 children in the program,” he said. “We focus on helping to get them through high school. We have tutoring programs, holiday retreats and more.”