Mexican businessman Moshe Sabah gave his son, David, a joint bar mitzva with a Russian immigrant at a high-profile event Monday in Jerusalem's Shuvu school, which had been renovated to house refugees from the North. The bar mitzva was attended by two MKs, several noted rabbis and about 50 children from the North.
Sabah, of Mexico City, told The Jerusalem Post that he gave his son his bar mitzva in Jerusalem to unite with Israel in this time of war, and included northerners in the celebration to reach out to those most affected by it.
"We made a party," he said, "for those who couldn't afford it but deserve it, and for my kids to learn to give, not only to take."
And give they did; Alex Kozhokin, the Russian boy who had his bar mitzva alongside David, received tefillin from the Sabah family, and all 50 northern children were given a school backpack full of books and pencils to prepare them for their studies in the fall.
Shas leader Rabbi Eli Yishai, MK Ruhama Avraham of Kadima, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman of Migdal Ha'emek were among those in attendance. But the real focus, according to Chaim Mikael Guttermann, head of the Shuvu school, was on the Jewish unity Sabah achieved by bringing the northerners together with his family.
"I think what meant the most to me," Guttermann said, "was everybody joined together. The Russians, who have no connection with Mexico, and the family. Everybody was joined in a religious ceremony. It showed that if we take an opportunity to unite and get together, something good will come out of this situation."
Shuvu runs 67 schools across the country that are targeted at the Russian immigrant population. In an effort to help refugees from the North, it has converted several schools, like the Weinberg Shuvu high school where the bar mitzva was held, into dormitories for displaced families. Beds and curtains were brought into the classrooms, the gym became a dining room and two to three families made each room their temporary home.
Although the school year is scheduled to begin September 1 and the Weinberg Shuvu building is in need of a renovation, Guttermann considers the saving of Jewish lives the most important issue at the moment, and will provide for the families as long as the North is still under attack.
"We pray the cease-fire will last," Guttermann said, "and they'll be able to go back to their Shuvu schools in the North."
The families at the makeshift dormitory are taken on tours of the city during the day, some of which are geared towards adults, while the children are occupied at a camp. In line with the ideas of Rabbi Avraham Pam, the American who founded the institution, Shuvu hosts Jewish lectures at night.
"His goal was to enable every Jewish child to receive a Jewish education," Guttermann said. "His approach has been to give Judaism in a positive, non-coercive way so children and parents can develop their Judaism at a pace they see right, not in a way that is a threat in any way to them. Shuvu is trying to break down the barrier between the religious and the non-religious."