Rabbi Sholom Duchman, International Director of Colel Chabad, puts tefilin (phylacteries) on one of the Bar Mitzvah boys. (Israel Bardugo) (Israel Bardugo)
Bar Mitzvah for orphaned boys in Jerusalem

Each Bar Mitzvah boy was escorted to the Kotel (Western Wall), accompanied by dancing, drums, trumpets and singing. There they made the traditional blessing over the Torah for the first time.

Thirteen-year-old Jewish boys traditionally celebrate their Bar-Mitzvah, reaching an age when they are considered adults under Jewish law and take responsibility for observing the mitzvot (Torah commandments).

When Eliner Samuel turned 13 two years ago, he was still mourning the loss of his father, Asaf, to cancer only four months earlier. His Bar Mitzvah party took a back seat and only a year later did he feel like he was able to celebrate. This year, his younger brother Barak joins the ranks of Jewish young men around the world.

Last Thursday, Barak joined 114 other Bar Mitzvah boys in Jerusalem to commemorate this occasion. The event was coordinated by Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest-running social services organization, since 1788, to ensure that the boys and their guests would be able to enjoy every moment. All expenses were covered by donors to the organization.

The collection of families represented at the event were as diverse as Israeli society itself.  Although many of the children came from observant backgrounds, for many others it was their first exposure to an organized religious service.

United by Loss of a Parent

The one thing which united all of them was the loss of a parent. Some lost their father or mother to illness, others to tragic accidents or terror attacks and in some cases suicide. But every effort was made to focus on the happiness of the day and leave the child’s pain aside.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem, every boy was given a brand new set of Talit and Tefilin (prayer shawl and phylacteries) (Israel Bardugo) a purchase which on its own reaches into the hundreds of dollars – and took part in the mitzvah of writing a letter in a new Torah scroll dedicated by the Katz family of Ra’anana in honor of the bar mitzvah of their son.

The boys were also treated to a shopping spree at Zara to get ready and look their best for the occasion. “I had never been in that store before, but spending the time with Barak and shopping with him was really fun and a great experience for us both,” said Asaf’s mother, Tzvia Samuel.

Each Bar Mitzvah boy was escorted to the Kotel (Western Wall), accompanied by dancing drums, trumpets and singing. There they made the traditional blessing over the Torah for the first time.

The program is in its 15th year. Many of the families in attendance hail from economically disadvantaged backgrounds where the prospect of such a complete celebration would never have been possible.

After the ceremony in the Old City, the children and their families arrived at the Binyanei Ha’uma International Convention Center, where a lavishly decorated banquet hall, musical entertainment, photo studio and gifts awaited guests, including Members of Knesset and other dignitaries.

“This event and the programming and support we get from them year-round have brought us to where we are today,” said Tzvia Samuel.

Rabbi Sholom Duchman, International Director of Colel Chabad, says these events show him the true power of the Jewish people. “These mothers are the true heroes,” he said. “They raise their families with vigor, strength and passion despite all the challenges that they are facing. We feel elevated to be in the company of such people.”

By: Sharon Givati