The group at the Western Wall
The group at the Western Wallspokesperson

About twenty boys and girls aged 12-13 from the Jewish communities in Dortmund and Düsseldorf in Germany came to Israel to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs. An initiative of their local World Bnei Akiva shlichim (emissaries), the kids came with their parents on a Jewish identity trip which climaxed with their arrival to the Western Wall accompanied by shofars (rams' horns) and dancing.

The teenagers, who are from families of Jews from the former USSR who immigrated to Germany, were visiting Israel for the first time and so were most of the parents.

Arriving for a week-long trip to Israel was the culmination of an educational endeavor that included monthly learning sessions over the past year. In the two communities, the children met once a month to learn about the year of the bar/bat mitzvah in Judaism while dealing with a variety of topics, including personal identity, me and the family, me and the community, me and the Torah, me and Judaism and more.

World Bnei Akiva shlichim in Düsseldorf Bnaya and Achinoam Vider and the shlichim in Dortmund, Ariel and Liora Vilner, said that most of the teenagers are from Jewish families who chose to emigrate from the USSR to Germany. This fact posed a challenge as a large portion of the parents could not celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah under Soviet rule and therefore did not see much importance in holding such an event for their child.

"A large portion of the children would not have made such a journey if we had not been there to offer it and emphasize its importance," Vilner explained.

The delegation that will return to Germany on Thursday paid a visit to the Commissioner's Palace promenade, held a bar mitzvah party at the Western Wall with a festive procession and shofars, held a tefillin-laying (phylacteries) ceremony, and ascended to the Torah. They toured the Western Wall tunnels, hiked in Ein Avdat, stayed in a Bedouin tent, and rode camels.

In addition, they climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, visited Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, marched through the streets of Tel Aviv, and held a graduation party at World Bnei Akiva's offices.

"The goal is to connect the children to the Jewish community, to the people of Israel and the Land of Israel, so that they will return to their communities with a broader understanding of what it means to be Jewish and to know how to represent the State of Israel. I think we also managed to bring the parents' generation closer to the story of the Jewish chain of generations and pray that they return home with a desire to introduce more Jewish education in their home, and to be active members in the community." Vilner shared excitedly.

One of the highlights of the journey was at the Western Wall. When the youth were accompanied by shofars as they walked through the plaza, one of the mothers said excitedly, "At the age of 12, I knew that I was Jewish mainly because I suffered from curses and anti-Semitism. It is heartwarming for me, that now at age 12 my daughter is approaching the Kotel (Western Wall) and feels at home.”

The World Bnei Akiva noted that this is the first year of the project - a joint endeavor with the communities and the Bnei Akiva - and in light of its success, preparations are already underway for next year!