Exploring Jewish identity at the Western Wall

A special Bar Mitzvah ceremony for European Jewish kids at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Children at special Western Wall event
Children at special Western Wall event

A jam-packed week touring Israel culminated in an emotional Bar Mitzvah ceremony for European youths at the Western Wall on Thursday morning.

“In a time of growing anti-Semitism in Europe, a group of Jewish youths is choosing to proudly celebrate their Jewishness and the observing of mitzvot (Torah commandment),” Chairman of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, Rabbi Menachem Margolin. This year, the organization is marking the 10th anniversary of their initiative which brings the next generation of Europe’s Jews youth to Israel.

The Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) hosted 120 boys and girls from across Europe to help them get in touch with their Jewish roots and heritage. At the Western Wall, the boys received a pair of tefillin (phylacteries) and the girls a beautiful silver pendant and glass candle holders for Shabbat. Girls were given gold and silver markers, so each of them could decorate the candle holders to her own taste, giving the present a personal touch.

It was an emotional week for participants, who toured the entire country. From the Golan Heights, Jeep tours to sailing in the Kinneret to riding a camel in the Negev Desert, the children were treated to a comprehensive spiritual journey which proved to be a transformative experience for many participants.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, Director General of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, added: "Each year, it is impressive to see the excitement of the children as they commemorate this momentous occasion at The Western Wall. It is an experience that will be etched in their hearts for the rest of their lives.”

The children were grateful for the opportunity to be in the Israel and connect to their Jewish identity.

Sarah from Budapest said,I love it here in Israel. Being here is very special and I’m so moved to receive this pendant.”

Meanwhile, Naomi from St. Petersburg, said, “This is such a colorful journey for me, as opposed to my home in Russia where everything is gray. In Israel, I feel like I’m truly becoming alive.”

Mordechai, the group’s tour guide, said, I’m really happy and grateful for this event. I think it’s amazing that kids get this opportunity to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah here, in the Holiest of places.”

This push to connect young Jews to Israel comes amid growing anti-Semitism across the continent where many Jews feel uncomfortable reveling in their Jewish heritage.

“With the current climate in Europe, it doesn’t matter if you’re observant or totally secular, there’s a real fear of anti-Semitism and violent attacks. An event like this gives the next generation confidence in their Jewish identity and will give them the tools to say – I’m a Jew, and I have a right to be a Jew, this is my tradition,” Rabbi Yossi Bainhaker, Deputy Director General at RCE, said. “Coming from this place of confidence, they can create a conversation to combat those who attack with negative preconceptions.”

This morning's ceremony was followed by a lavish dinner in Jerusalem. Scheduled to attend are Jerusalem Affairs Minister, Ze'ev Elkin; Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.