MIRIAM PERETZ, the mother of fallen Golani Brigade soldiers Uriel and Eliraz, speaks at the Colel Chabad ceremony yesterday, surrounded by her family..
(photo credit: KAYLA STEINBERG)
A sense of pride filled the Gutnik Hall at Jerusalem’s Beit Hadfus Sunday afternoon as 100 orphaned children and their families gathered at Colel Chabad’s scholarship awards ceremony to celebrate their academic achievements with hard-earned scholarships.
Yet underneath the well-manicured scholarship certificates lie the stories of families who have overcome unimaginable tragedies. The children have lost their parents and siblings to various causes including illness and war, and one child lost his father to suicide on Yom Kippur.
Miriam Peretz, a teacher who now educates soldiers on how to deal with war, lost two sons in war. Her firstborn, Uriel, was killed in Lebanon when he was 22 years old, and her second son, Eliraz, was killed by Hamas in Gaza in 2010. Her husband also died shortly after. Eliraz left behind four little children, the youngest two months old.
Attending the ceremony with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, Peretz has remained strong and hopeful for the future of Israel even through such great tragedy.
“I choose to see the light in the darkness,” she said. She wants to see her grandchildren’s continued success in Israel. “I pay the big price of our existence for what? For it [life] to continue!” Discussing Tisha Be’Av, Miriam Peretz said: “The Temple was destroyed because they [the Jewish people at that time] didn’t let the children learn....
[now] they learn Torah, they learn Bible, they learn their roots, they learn the spirit of the people of Israel.”
She described how important it is for her grandchildren to learn history so that they can continue to live in and improve Israel.
The children in this particular Chesed Menachem Mendel program, a Colel Chabad initiative that aids many people, including widows and orphaned children, are high-school aged. They come from all over the country and have different backgrounds.
Some have lost one parent, others both. Colel Chabad does not exist to judge. It rather wishes to help the children and families in any way possible through several programs including support groups, house visits and academic programs.
While all of the children who attended Sunday’s ceremony were honored for their academic achievements, having gotten very high test scores, getting to this point was not without struggle.
17-year-old Daniel Pruzansky, a world class singer, lost his father when he was three.
The tragedy put a strain on his family and his academics, and he has been greatly helped by Colel Chabad’s programs, which have helped him in school, paid for his classes and funded his vocal and piano lessons. As Pruzansky sat, awaiting his scholarship, he smiled and clapped alongside his mother for all of the other children as they received his awards.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s a very special dinner today.” When he received his own award, Pruzansky thanked his mother and the program for all of the assistance he has received and then sang Shir Hamaalot, power and strength reverberating around the room.
Soldier Ido Biton was also in attendance with his younger sister Noa, whom he enrolled in the Chesed Menachem Mendel program after both of his parents and his sister died.
After their deaths, Ido took on the role of mother and father and called Colel Chabad to get tutoring for Noa.
With Colel Chabad’s tutoring Noa has excelled in math, improving from test scores averaging 45% to perfect scores of 100%. With all of the tragedy that has happened in her family, Noa now wants to be a doctor in the IDF so that she can save lives. Her brother is currently a counselor in a camp for IDF orphans.
People wore mixed emotions at the ceremony, with some tearing up and others smiling as they listened to Rabbi Amram Blau, head of the Colel Chabad education program, present the scholarships. Blau knew every child’s and family’s story by heart, warmly welcoming each up to the stage to accept their scholarship.
The widowed mothers were also presented with gifts onstage. As chairman of Colel Chabad, Rabbi Sholom Duchman said, referring to the children and their widowed mothers, “Each one of them is a hero.” All were recognized at the ceremony, which was followed by a beautiful dinner.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Moshe Amar repeatedly emphasized how “very hard” it is for all of these children to achieve so much in their studies given their immense losses, but urged them to “continue studying.” His remarks drew “amens” from the audience, and all rose for an emotional prayer that brought even more meaning to the room.
Colel Chabad also runs other initiatives, such as a food security program, to help needy people in the country.
Duchman said he hopes Colel Chabad and its Chesed Menachem Mendel initiative will go bankrupt in using the program’s funds to get all children into the IDF or civil service.