When a bar mitzvah is a mitzva

Hazon Yeshaya helps underprivileged youngsters celebrate their initiation into adulthood.

By ALYX RIMBERG
August 15, 2010 02:18
2 minute read.
chabad bar mitzvah 88 298

chabad bar mitzvah 88 29. (photo credit: Sharon Matityahu)

 
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Nearly every month, a dozen underprivileged children celebrate their bar mitzvahs, free of charge. For these children, what may have been only a dream becomes a reality thanks to Hazon Yeshaya, a humanitarian network in Jerusalem.

The celebrants, who come from needy and/or broken families, would have been hard-pressed to properly celebrate this important moment were it not for this network.

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Despite the severe economic decline of the last few years, the organization’s bar/bat mitzvah celebrations continue to provide a joyful experience for these kids, and a memorable and inspiring introduction to adulthood.

Under the network’s wing, these youngsters get a tour of Jerusalem and visit the Western Wall. They are given a tallit, tefillin and a siddur (prayer book).

In addition to the traditional ceremony, a small party is organized for the young celebrants, together with their family and friends. The festivities include not just food, but a magician and live music.

Last week, Hazon Yeshaya held a special celebration for the bar/bat mitzvah children and their guests.

One of the bar mitzvah boys was wheelchairbound, paralyzed by polio from an early age.

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To honor him, a number of the IDF’s finest – a group of paratroopers whom these children look up to as heroes – were on hand to perform.

The children spent the day on the soldiers’ shoulders, clearly enjoying their moment in the limelight.

All the bar/bat mitzvahs are funded by international donors. In fact, some of the children now celebrate a “twin event,” where both the bar/bat mitzva child and benefactor’s own child celebrate the occasion together.

The founder of Hazon Yeshaya, Abraham Israel, was born in Egypt. His family came to Israel in hope of finding a better life, but was turned back and told to wait until proper documentation could be organized. The family waited three-and-a-half years, during which they ate at soup kitchens.

When finally granted admittance, Israel was already of bar mitzvah age, but the family could not afford to celebrate.

Israel’s “party” consisted of a single cookie and a sincere “Mazal Tov!” from his family.

With that experience etched in his memory, Israel swore he would make a difference in the Jewish state’s future.

And indeed he did: Hazon Yeshaya not only runs the bar/bat mitzva project, but also provides hundreds of hot meals each day.

In describing the impact of the network on young lives, Israel tells a moving story of two orphaned brothers who lived together. When the younger one was of bar mitzvah age, he asked his brother to organize a party to celebrate the milestone.

The older brother promptly went to a store and brought out two beers.

“L’haim!” he exclaimed. But his younger sibling was very disappointed.

Two weeks later, the bar mitzvah boy found himself at the Western Wall – thanks to Hazon Yeshaya. The boy was ecstatic at this unexpected opportunity to have a real bar mitzvah.

“Thank you so, so much for doing all this for me,” he said to Israel, who was no less moved than the young celebrant.

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