Never too late! In a moving ceremony at the Western Wall, 45 survivors of the Holocaust participated in a joint Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony, marking an important milestone in their lives, albeit decades later.
More than 70 years after World War II ended, 45 Holocaust survivors in Israel finally got the chance to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs for the first time on Monday morning at the Western Wall in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The survivors reached bar or bat mitzvah age – 13 for a boy (Bar Mitzvah) and 12 for a girl (Bat Mitzvah) during the war or immediately afterwards, but because of their circumstances never had an opportunity to participate in the ceremony marking a Jewish boy’s or girl’s entrance to adulthood.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Israel’s Office for Social Equality, and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) sponsored the moving ceremony. Eighteen of the survivors also receive financial assistance throughout the year from IFCJ.
The survivors and their families joined Monday’s event, which included a tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall. The men donned Tefillin (phylacteries) and read from the Torah, while the women participated in a separate ceremony at the Western Wall Tunnels Hall. The group ended the celebration dining together.
All now elderly, many of the survivors said they have long felt that because they never had a bar or bat mitzvah, something was missing from their Jewish identities. Aspir Ravicher was 11 when the war began. Her family fled from their homes in Ukraine to Russia. Throughout the war, they lived on the run, focused solely on the need to survive each day.
“We ran away with nothing but the clothes we were wearing. We had nothing, we were hungry all the time, we lived in a crowded place – I remember that it was mostly cold and I was very hungry,” Ravicher recalled. A bat mitzvah “was not something we could have done.”
‘I Am So Excited and Happy’
Alexander Buchnik reached bar mitzvah age immediately upon the liberation of Moscow from the Nazis. “But we could not celebrate my bar mitzvah,” he said. His mother “was busy surviving and keeping us alive―we could not think about it at all.”
“All my life, I felt that I missed it so much. I am so excited and happy,” he said.
Hiding their Jewish identity to survive was necessary not only during the war, but also during Communist rule in the years that followed. Semyon Liebman was a young boy in St. Petersburg when the war broke out. Throughout the war years, he, his sister and his mother were forced to wander. After the war, the family returned to live in the St. Petersburg area.
“When we came back, it was forbidden to talk about Judaism or anything about the bar mitzvah, so we did not talk about it at all,” he said. “I feel like a little boy today. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this day throughout my life.”
‘The Eternity of the Jewish People’
“Light and darkness are mixed here, but hope is absolute, and there is concrete evidence of the eternity of the Jewish people,” the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in a statement. “The event leaves its mark on the participants and symbolizes revenge against the Nazi enemy in the form of a return to the Jewish tradition and proof that it is never too late.”
IFCJ’s founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, said: “I find it difficult to think of anything more inspiring than elderly Holocaust survivors who receive a late bar and bat mitzvah celebration in the holiest place for the Jewish people, after surviving the terror of the Nazis and having their childhood stolen from them.
“These survivors are heroes,” he said. “I am so grateful to be part of this momentous experience for them. We help these survivors throughout the year and I welcome the opportunity we have been given to be part of this exciting event.”
By: United with Israel Staff
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