IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, grandfather Yisrael Rutner, bar mitzva boy Yehoshua Lebowicz, mother Dr Daniella Rutner and sister Mia Lebowicz.
(photo credit: TAMARA ZIEVE)
An American teenager marked his bar mitzva at the Israeli Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on Thursday, with the inauguration of a Torah scroll his family helped restore for use at a memorial center for fallen IDF soldiers.
The Torah scroll itself was donated by the Norwich Jewish community in Connecticut – which has donated three scrolls in total – as part of a project called Oz Vehadar, which the Defense Ministry is supporting. The project seeks to bring unused Torah scrolls from Diaspora communities and to restore them for use by public bodies, such as the IDF, Magen David Adom and Yad Lebanim, which is responsible for memorializing fallen IDF soldiers and providing support for bereaved families.
The Torah scroll, which was brought to the Defense Ministry headquarters on Thursday, will be taken to a memorial hall at a Yad Lebanim center.
Yad Lebanim still needs 34 scrolls in order to complete their effort to bring one to each center, after having already equipped 31 centers with scrolls. The Defense Ministry recently agreed to help the organization achieve this goal and Thursday marked the first fruit of this cooperation.
At an intimate ceremony in his office, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan presented Yehoshua Lebowicz of New York, the bar mitzva boy, with an award and certificate in appreciation of his contribution.
Also present at the ceremony was IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim and Lebowicz’s sister, mother and grandfather.
Lebowicz’s mother, Daniella Rutner, explained that she wanted her son to have a meaningful experience in honor of his bar mitzva and in memory of her late grandmother. Rutner remarked that it had always been important for her to instill in her children a love for Israel and for the IDF, and that one of her daughters is currently studying at a seminary in Israel and then plans to do national service.
“I think it’s cool that I came to Israel,” said Lebowicz, adding that he wants to join the army.
“I’m excited to see an American family here, celebrating their son’s bar mitzva with the contribution of a Torah scroll to Yad Lebanim, to memorialize IDF soldiers who fell in battle while defending us, the citizens of Israel and the Israeli people, wherever they are,” said Ben-Dahan, stressing how moved he was that an American boy’s bar mitzva present was bringing a Torah scroll to Israel.
“This strengthens the relationship between world Jewry and Israel and shows that Jews living in Israel and Jews living around the world are united, with a deep mutual connection between them,” Ben-Dahan added. “For the bereaved families, this Torah scroll is a prominent symbol of Judaism, and that is called ‘the tree of life,’ and this is a sign of the continued life of the boys who fell.”
The Torah scrolls being brought to Israel within the framework of the project have been donated from all around the world, from countries such as the US, Canada, Venezuela, Romania, Morocco, France and England. Some of the scrolls survived the Holocaust and have been restored. “It’s two mitzvot,” Yad Lebanim chairman Eli Ben Shem told The Jerusalem Post
. “First, rescuing the scrolls, and then using them to memorialize fallen IDF soldiers.”