Rabbi Karniel and the Bar Mitzvah boy last week
Rabbi Karniel and the Bar Mitzvah boy last weekYad L'Achim

When T. was called to the Torah last week for his Bar Mitzvah, the entire synagogue was moved. The fact that his father was not by his side indicated that this was an exceptional story, but only a few participants knew just how exceptional.

T.’s mother, Bela, is a Jewish woman who moved to Israel from Ukraine in the early the 1990s and married an Arab man from Samaria. At first they lived in his home in a village in the Palestinian Authority, but after she converted to Islam they moved to a Jewish community, near the home of her mother.

As is often the case with such marriages, Bela was subjected to serious violence and kept locked up in her home for long periods. The fact that she barely spoke any Hebrew and had very few social contacts in her neighborhood, worked to her disadvantage, and the beatings continued for years.

But then something happened. A new neighbor moved into her building, noticed that something was off with Bela and decided to get involved. Gently, and with with help of a Russian speaker, she pieced together the story and turned to Yad L’Achim with the details.

The organization quickly contacted Bela and offered assistance, but she was afraid of her violent husband and distrustful of strangers. A year ago, when her husband was arrested in the Palestinian Authority for criminal behavior, and sent to a PA prison, she felt safe enough to open a new page in her life.

Throughout the divorce proceedings in the Sharia court, she had the constant support of a social worker provided by Yad L’Achim, which also assigned mentors to the children to familiarize them with their Judaism and help them adjust socially.

Last week, after many months of preparation, Bela’s first-born son celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the Chabad House in the settlement of Bnei Ayyish near her home, with the help of the emmisary, Rabbi Aharon Karniel. The crowd was small, barely a minyan, but the joy was great.

At the festive meal that followed, Bela’s mother, the grandmother of the Bar Mitzvah boy, spoke of how she and her family had kept their Judaism in the Soviet Union despite the persecution and hardships. “My daughter suffered until recently from violence because she was Jewish, but like back then, despite it all, we continue on, and keep our Judaism with pride.”