Special Colel Chabad Bar Mitzvah event
Special Colel Chabad Bar Mitzvah event Elior Ben Haiem 'The photographers group'

Ahead of Seder Night, Israel’s longest continuously running charity is preparing for a year of unprecedented activity in response to growing needs across the country. Colel Chabad, founded in 1788 to provide financial and practical support to the then tiny Jewish community in the Holy Land, will be distributing seder meals for over 22,000 people.

Based out of one major food preparation facility with three distribution centers across the country, the organization’s logistical operation to produce and deliver the meals in time for the holiday is on a military scale. The list of meals includes no fewer than 11,000 salmon filets, 7,000 chicken thighs and 9,800 almond cakes. All meals are prepared and every effort is made to respond to the variety of tastes by families from all types of ethnic and national backgrounds. The food preparation entails an order of some 30,000 eggs and ten tons worth of potatoes.

“We see it as a true privilege to be able to give Israeli families the ability to have a Pesach seder in a respectful and meaningful way,” says Rabbi Shalom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad. “Every effort is made to giving them a sense of enjoyment for the holiday so that even if it’s just for a few hours they can achieve a feeling of personal respect, joy and freedom and leave the challenges of their daily lives behind while celebrating the Chag.”

That vision has also motivated an annual pre-Pesach tradition of celebrating the bar mitzvahs of some 120 orphans boys who gathered at the Kotel on Monday morning. Each of the boys had lost a parent to illness or tragedy and faced a deep emotional challenge when it came to how to celebrate this coming of age experience. The organization also hosts a similar Bat Mitzvah event earlier in the year.

Special Colel Chabad Bar Mitzvah event
Special Colel Chabad Bar Mitzvah event Elior Ben Haiem 'The photographers group'

The annual bar mitzvah paid tribute to Rabbi Amram Blau, known to many of these boys as ‘father of the orphans’ and founder of Chessed Menachem Mendel, who was tragically killed in an accident only two months ago.

For 29 year-old New Yorker Corey Horowitz, the morning was filled with meaning and emotion. Having taught more than 80 bar mitzvah aged boys from the Upper West Side of Manhattan how to read their Torah portions, it was a natural decision for him to find a way to take part in this meaningful celebration. Together with family, friends and former students, Horowitz raised $20,000 toward the tallit and tefillin sets given to each boy.

“One of the things I try and teach my students is to find something that you love and use that as a way to give to others,” said Horowitz. “This bar mitzvah project was one that so many of them connected to and I really believe it will help them grow into young men who give back to others.”

Amongst the Bar Mitzvah boys who read the Torah for the first time was the son of Ari Fuld, who was killed in a terror attack near the Gush Etzion junction in November 2018. Ari had already begun teaching his son Natan his Torah portion and was more than halfway into the parsha when he was killed. The remainder was learned alongside his grandfather.

“When it comes to trying to celebrate happy occasions, it is a deep challenge for those who have lost their parents to tragedy and it is often a comfort to be alongside others who have experienced similar loss,” explains Rabbi Duchman. “We hope this celebration allows the young men to realize that even without their parents they have not been forgotten.”

“The breadth of what Colel Chabad does, not just for these boys, but for their families and the community at large is inspiring,” said Maurice Ades, who came from New York with his 13-year-old son Ness, to participate in and support the celebration. “I think it is so important for children to see and participate in what it means to give to others. Sometimes people come to Israel and see the King David Hotel and the beaches of Tel Aviv. But Colel Chabad sees those who fall through the cracks and work tirelessly in partnership with the Israeli government to help. It’s truly inspiring.”

Click here to help Colel Chabad continue its activities in Israel.