Torah scroll
Torah scroll iStock

Ruth was born and raised in the city of Toulouse, France to a well-to-do Jewish family. She lived a life of privilege, including attendance at an exclusive private school, where there were just a few Jewish students. That's why her family wasn't surprised when she announced that she was marrying a young man named Artus, a Christian from a well-known, established family.

A few years later, the couple moved to southwestern France, to a remote village near the border with Spain, in search of a quiet place in which to live their lives.

The village was perfect, a Garden of Eden on earth, but the quiet led Artus to probe his Christian roots and become a devout Catholic. He tried to convince Ruth to join him on his weekly visit to church, but she adamantly refused, causing their relationship to deteriorate dramatically.

Artus took their son to church and notified Ruth that he intended to send him for a Christian education in a nearby monastery, with the goal of turning him into a priest. The young boy, who understood the significance of the move, cried hysterically, pleading for his life, to no avail. Artus was determined to turn his son into a religious Christian, no matter what. He beat him mercilessly, insisting that his future as a priest was not up for debate.

It was then that Ruth understood she could no longer continue her life in that village. Though she felt no connection to Judaism, she decided to move to Israel with her son. Before leaving France she spoke to a local lawyer about the abuse her son had been subjected to at the hands of his Christian father, in his attempt to deny the boy his future and identity.

It wasn't easy to acclimate to Israel but there was no choice. Her son would have been doomed had they stayed in France. "We chose this step because we knew it is the land of the Jews, but we didn't really connect to life here," Ruth recounts. "We didn't grow up in a Jewish environment and felt estranged from the land and the religion. In the first two years we avoided speaking Hebrew and didn't want any connection to Judaism."

With the passage of time, their wounds began to heal and Ruth and her son, who merited the name David, began to get to know their neighbors and blend into the community. French-speaking acquaintances gave her details to Yad L'Achim and it wasn't long before David was assigned a French-speaking mentor. The boy was resistant at first, due to his fears of religious education and in light of his painful experience in France. But after he got to know a little about Judaism he came to love it.

Ruth and David celebrated the Tishrei holidays like kosher Jews, despite the challenges of the coronavirus and social distancing. Yad L'Achim staffers and French-speaking neighbors provided all of their holiday needs, both material and spiritual. The positive experience brought David to the conclusion that when he turned 13 he wanted to celebrate the milestone like a full Jew.

This week, with the help of Yad L'Achim, the local Chabad House for French-speakers and family friends, David celebrated his bar mitzvah in a small, modest ceremony that was in keeping with the corona rules The joy and spiritual lift were indescribable.

"Finally, I feel that I am part of the Jewish people," he said. "The simplicity and deep meaning that marked the ceremony caused me to connect even more to the spiritual journey of every Jewish youth that begins at the age his Bar Mitzvah. In my first Tefillah – with the Tefillin that Yad L'Achim purchased for me – I understood the power of the Jewish people and how proud I am to be part of it."