In a sign of optimism and hope on an otherwise challenging day for Israeli society amidst the ongoing protests and turmoil surrounding the proposed judicial reforms, more than 120 orphans took part in a joyous Bar Mitzvah celebration at the Western Wall. The annual event was sponsored and arranged by Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest continuously running social services organization in operation since 1788. The event brought together families from all over the country who have suffered the loss of a parent to celebrate the traditional coming of age ceremony with an aliya to the Torah and gala event.
After receiving their tefillin, the young men were individually danced down to the Kotel on the shoulders of volunteers. “It’s a very emotional experience being here with my son, but it’s truly wonderful to have reached this day,” said one mother from Hod Hasharon whose husband passed away when their son was three.
“There are a lot of mixed emotions to see kids dancing at their bar mitzvah and put on their new tefillin, but at the same time they are missing somebody very important to them,” said Pesach Weiss, whose family in Long Island donated the sets of tefillin for the boys participating in the day’s event. “To be able to be a part of it, the lend a hand and try and alleviate the pain a little bit and make it more enjoyable is a very beautiful thing.”
“Colel Chabad and the Chessed Menachem Mendel Program do amazing things for families, including ours, giving strength and support, exactly when and how we need it” said a mother of five children from Har Bracha whose husband passed away 7 years ago. “This is our third bar mitzvah celebration with Colel Chabad and it’s always a happy occasion, bringing joy and connection to our family.”
Following the bar mitzvah celebration at the Kotel, the families were the guests of honor at a gala celebration in Jerusalem’s International Convention Center hall, where they were treated to a three course meal, concert, photo session and gifts to mark the occasion. The event was made possible with the support of the Shlusberg family and the Meromim Foundation.
“We are in the year of Hakhel, the Jewish year specifically calling for us to gather together, and there is no more important time for this to happen than today, with all that is going on in Israel,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad, who came to Israel specifically to join the celebration. “Particularly in these painful days of challenge for Israel and the Jewish people we have to stand up and gather together and highlight that there are still many things that unite us. As Jews, we have always welcomed the chance to have different opinions and to debate, but we have to remember that there are things that must always bring us back to who we are as a people and a Jewish nation. The connection to Hashem, the connection to Torah and our traditions, this is what the Bar Mitzvah is about – uniting all Jews together.”
“It’s very meaningful to be here, seeing the boys have the opportunity to celebrate their bar mitzvah,” said Tomas Gorny, a Colel Chabad supporter who came to the event with his son Jacob, who celebrated his own bar mitzvah six months ago. “We cannot relate to some of the things that they have been through but just being included in this even is very meaningful.”