For 120 orphan boys, this Passover will be infused with an additional dose of unexpected joy as the result of an initiative of Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running social services organization, which provided the boys with a Bar Mitzvah celebration including gifts and a lavish ceremony.

Each of the boys has their own individual stories of pain and loss. All have suffered the death of a parent, the majority of them their fathers – often due to illness but in some cases due to accidents or terror attacks. Many come from families that are also struggling with poverty and other challenges that have resulted from the loss of the primary bread-winner.

“The common bond that unites all of these boys is the sense that there is something missing,” says Itzik Marton of Colel Chabad, director of the Bar Mitzvah program. “Our goal is to remind them that despite their losses, there remains a supportive community that understands their pain and is doing something pro-active to surround them with happiness and support at this most exciting time in their lives.”

Colel Chabad, in service to Israel’s needy and those who need support since 1788, has been hosting the Bar Mitzvah celebration since 1992. This year’s celebration is supported by the Krakowiak family of Sao Paulo, Brazil in honor of their son Fernando’s Bar Mitzva. The family came to Israel to celebrate the occasion alongside the children of Colel Chabad.

Each participant is provided with a fully-funded shopping spree at Zara where the boy chooses an outfit that best matches his personal taste. He is also presented with a set of teffilin and the ceremony begins at the Kotel where the boys are individually danced down to be called up to the Torah.

The program is coordinated by a team of volunteers including Mendy who came to the Jerusalem from Tzfat in Northern Israel. “Our role here is to bring that extra level of happiness and simcha to these boys,” he said. “We were told there was one specific boy who lost both of his parents so we made certain he never felt alone and tried our hardest to make him feel loved and happy. It was incredibly emotional to see how happy we were able to help him feel,” he said.

Bar Elias from Ashdod whose husband passed away from illness two years ago accompanied her son, the youngest in the family, to the celebration. “This was the first major family event since my husband died and I was thrilled to see how my son was given the feeling that he hasn’t been forgotten,” she said. “This is so much more than I could have ever imagined.”

Following the Kotel ceremony, the entire delegation of boys and their families travelled to a gala celebration at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Hauma where a fully catered meal was accompanied by dancing and entertainment by Yishai Lapidot. Special guests included the Chief Rabbis of Israel as well as government ministers and members of Knesset, all blessing the young men as they enter the next stage of their lives.

The Bar Mitzvah project is just one of Colel Chabad’s initiatives that works with over 700 orphans and widows throughout the year – with a special focus around the holidays.