For 42 girls who came together at the Hadar Hall in Jerusalem on Monday, the idea of a happy Bat Mitzvah celebration had been something difficult to imagine. The girls were all united in tragedy, orphans who have lost parents to illness or tragedy. The celebration organized by Colel Chabad was therefore specifically designed for these unique emotional challenges.
The Bat Mitzah event for these young women, and a similar event for Bar Miztvah boys next month, has been organized by Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running social services organization since 1788, for over a decade.
Tragically, the main organizer behind the initiative, Rabbi Amram Blau, was himself killed in an accident in 2019.
Shira Livnat-Weiss, a 32 year old mother from Jerusalem has raised her four children without their father who was killed in a terror attack at Joseph’s Tomb nine years ago. At the time of the attack, her oldest child was just four years old. He will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah in several weeks with the organization and today was his younger sister’s turn.
“The truth is that these milestone events bring a level of joy to our family in ways that a few years ago I might never have believed possible,” Shira says. “We feel the love and support from Colel Chabad daily and everything we ask of them they are there to answer.”
Karen Fonfeder, originally from Los Angeles lost her husband to sudden illness four years ago while they were expecting their sixth child.
“When their father died, the children felt that they had a scarlet letter brandished on them, that they were blemished or broken,” Fonfeder said. “But when they come to an event like this, where everyone has experienced the same loss, they realize they aren’t alone. Our daughter Hadassah saw the incredible experience our son had at his bar mitzvah last year and was so excited that it was now her turn to celebrate.”
And Fonfeder and the family has even more reason to celebrate, as she remarried a widower just last month.
Rabbi Itzik Marton of Colel Chabad said that the vision behind the initiative, part of the yearlong education support and enrichment program, is to give a sense of normalcy to single-parents who might not be able to plan these events for themselves.
“No matter when or how a child loses a parent, that experience is a lasting trauma that impacts heavily in times of celebration,” he says. “But we know that these young women and their families have already been through so much and they deserve the same type of happiness and celebration that everyone else does when it comes to their Bat Mitzvah.”
All expenses for the celebration are covered by Colel Chabad which is supported by a network of donors from around the world. Included was a fully catered meal with dancing, a photographer and custom album and special gifts for every girl. “There is no forgetting the pain which these daughters have gone through,” said Shira “But on days like today it’s amazing to see how much others are caring for them and allowing them to feel what real joy is like.”