“These boys whose lives were in complete turmoil amidst a brutal war just a few weeks ago are now blessed to celebrate their bar mitzvas at this holiest and most special of places.”
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
A group of 120 orphaned refugees from the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr celebrated their bar mitzvah at the Western Wall on Monday.
The bar mitzvah boys were part of a group of children forced to flee Ukraine after the Russian invasion. They currently live in the village of Nes Harim, near Jerusalem.
“Our goal with this event is to provide each and every boy here today, all of whom have experienced their own individual traumas, with the understanding that this special point in their lives has not been forgotten,” explained Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad, which organizes an annual bar mitzvah for orphans, which the Ukrainians joined.
“There is something incredibly rewarding to know that these boys whose lives were in complete turmoil amidst a brutal war just a few weeks ago are now blessed to celebrate their bar mitzvas at this holiest and most special of places,” the rabbi said.
Colel Chabad holds a group bar mitzvah for orphans every year on the birthday of the late Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. A similar bat mitzvah event for girls was held in March.
The boys are presented with tefillin, gift certificates for new clothes and other gifts. At the Western Wall, volunteers help the boys put on their tefillin and dance to celebrate their coming of age.
“It’s an important day for me,” bar mitzvah boy Tima Kabakov to Ynet. The 14-year-old said he was marking his bar mitzvah belatedly.
“Two months ago, I didn’t realize that I’ll have [a] bar mitzvah in Israel, [at the] Kotel … I can’t explain this [in] words,” he said. A bar mitzvah “is the most important day for every Jewish boy, and also this is [at the] Kotel, this kodesh [holy] place. I’m really excited.”
Kabakov said that he and his mother would like to return to Ukraine after the war, but he is considering returning making aliyah later.
“I really like Israel,” he said. “The people here are so lovely, helpful and I’m thankful for… Israel.”
An estimated 5,000 Jews lived in Zhytomyr before the Russian invasion.
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