In Ethics of Our Fathers 1:2 it says: The world depends on three things: On Torah, on Avodah (interpreted as prayer known in Hebrew as avodah shebalev – service of the heart) and gemilut chassadim – acts of kindness. The Sderot group bat mitzvah participants experienced each of these three elements during the course of their specially designed Jerusalem Experience.
On Sunday January 24, 2010 a group of 31 girls from a secular school in Sderot celebrated their bat mitzvah with Connections Israel via the Jerusalem Experience. Who are these girls? They included two new immigrants, one of whom arrived from Denmark just two weeks prior to the celebration who didn’t speak a word of Hebrew. She was the first family member to ever set foot in Jerusalem! Below is a thumbnail sketch of just a few of these young ladies. Each child is a world in their own right and each case presents its own unique set of needs and challenges. But on this special day, these children were “Queen for the Day;” they were allowed to simply be children celebrating their bat mitzvah. One must never take these most basic of rights for granted.
“T”, the oldest of three girls including a one year old baby, lost her father a month ago. He was the backbone of the family; the one who was very involved in the children’s studies and life in general, leaving a gaping hole. In order to support the family the mother has returned to work and so the paternal grandmother now attends to the children after school until the mother returns from work. Each member of the family is struggling with grief, and as the oldest child, this young lady is feeling the full weight of the situation.
“A” is one of three children from a divorced family. The stresses of Sderot manifest themselves in different ways, often resulting in the breakdown of family units. The father has cut off all contact with his family and so the mother is struggling to raise the children as a single parent. Due to emotional and financial difficulties, the family lives primarily with the grandmother, which creates an assortment of other issues.
“N” and her two brothers were forsaken by their father for another woman, leaving their mother to raise all three children on her own. They are fortunate to have a loving mother who is devoted to them, however, she has been stricken by cancer, is unable to work and is in a physically compromised situation. This family lives in utter poverty and is in no position to mark this child’s bat mitzvah. Love is what is keeping all of them going. And love is exactly what came shining through at each stop along the way for these young ladies’ journey to Jerusalem.
Traveling up from Sderot, the day began at the Kotel where the girls melded with the numerous other visitors from Israel and abroad including a significant amount of chayalim soaking in the special atmosphere of the place. After some photo ops, the girls were given their first lesson in what it means to be a member of the adult Jewish community.
They were charged with performing their first “responsible action” by serving as representatives for individuals and some synagogue schoolchildren who are also celebrating their bar and bat mitzvahs and who had written notes for the Kotel. The idea of writing a note and conveying one’s deepest hopes, dreams, requests etc and inserting it into the Kotel was completely new to these girls, but many were so moved by the concept that they too requested papers to write their own personal prayers. And so, these young women joined all those before and all those who will come after them in not visiting but rather experiencing the Kotel.
The celebrants then visited the Chain of Generations Museum next to the Kotel. This is a relatively new museum which uses glass and real depth (one can see down to remains from the Temples) to make the point that our roots date back to Abraham and extend past us and into the future of the Jewish People. The final stop is a magical interview with Reb Yisrael who traces his personal story from the last couple of centuries to us sitting here now. It was a powerful way to sum up the kotel experience for the girls reminding them that we are a link in the chain of the Jewish People and carry responsibility and pride in both directions.
It was now on to part two of the day – a visit to the Bible Lands Museum for lunch, a guided tour and jewelry making workshop. The girls were guided through various exhibits by an engaging young woman: In the process they were introduced to Rachel’s possible reasons for stealing the “trafim” (figures/idols of some sort that were on display) from her father’s home; the majestic and massive palace of Achashverosh from the Purim story and the courage required of Esther to even consider approaching him to save her people and much more. The final exhibit depicted ancient jewelry which helped them move into the hands on workshop where they made their own jewelry.
Part three of the day was meeting some of their partners from across the ocean. Gathering in the Inbal hotel, they were presented with siddurim and candlesticks, rings, earrings and necklaces, and handwritten cards by girls from other countries celebrating their bat mitzvah.
One of the participants was rendered speechless when she realized the ring was real. This is the first piece of jewelry she has ever owned!
The girls saw a brief video in which a group of bat mitzvah girls from the Yeshiva of Flatbush, one of our partners in this project, wished them a mazel tov. The Yeshiva of Flatbush representatives told us how excited their girls were to know they were connecting with and making a difference in the lives of their peers. Finally, it was time to party. The female musicians provided the atmosphere and the girls from the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School chessed mission created the spirit for a true simcha. By the end of the event, not a single girl was left outside of the circle and many had made new friends, some of whom will keep in touch.
According to the Sderot teachers who had accompanied the participants for the day, this was the first time they had experienced such a bat mitzvah. According to the various educators from abroad who had joined us, this was an amazing opportunity to learn about the larger Jewish community and join the adult Jewish community by taking concrete actions in making a difference in the lives of others. In all cases, it was education at its finest as it engaged all the senses and was highly interactive.
Above all else, it epitomized the idea that “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh – All of Israel is responsible one for another.” Talk has already begun on how to make this an annual event and we invite you to join us. By connecting with Connections Israel you make a difference in people’s lives and forge a connection with the Jewish People!
If you would like information on participating with Connections Israel on the Sderot Bar Mitzvah scheduled for Yom Haatzmaut contact us here.
Individual and group mentoring on becoming a bat mitzvah and an adult member of the Jewish community: $150
Candlesticks and a siddur: $150
A new outfit and shoes for the bat mitzvah girl and her mother: $300
A Jerusalem experience – special visits and educational workshops: $250
Group celebration with music, dancing, and a festive meal: $150
Total cost per child: $1000