chabad bar mitzvah 88 29.
(photo credit: Sharon Matityahu)
The joy that is usually part and parcel of a bar or bat mitzva celebration was overshadowed by sorrow when some 80 youngsters who had reached the age of maturity in accordance with Jewish tradition gathered at Beit Hanassi on Monday in response to an invitation by President Shimon Peres.
Representing the social mosaic of Israel, the youngsters' common denominator was that they were all IDF orphans.
Their fathers had all been killed in the line of duty - some in active service in battles against Israel's enemies, some in accidents that occurred during reserve duty.
Hovering just behind the smiles and laughter that accompany a milestone birthday was the grim reminder of the high price that Israel pays for its independence and security.
There were several mothers, grandparents and older siblings in attendance - most of them armed with digital cameras to record the occasion, but many had to momentarily put their cameras aside as they brushed away unbidden tears.
There wasn't a dry eye in the reception hall when Saguy Dahan, the son of Lt.-Col. Yoram Dahan, who was killed by an explosive in Lebanon in 1996 while tending to wounded comrades, spoke. Saguy, who was aged 28 months when his father died, has no clear memory of his father but has built up an image based on things that he has been told.
It was always night when his father came home from the army, said Saguy, and the first thing he did was to creep into the children's bedroom, lift them out of their beds and inhale their sweetness. Addressing himself to his father, Saguy continued: "Daddy, I'm proud to be your son, the son of a hero. You are a symbol for all of us for generations to come. You have no idea of how much I miss you and how painful it is to be without youâ€¦"
As he spoke, his mother's face reflected both pride and sadness.
Peres, visibly moved by Saguy's eloquence, rose from his chair and embraced him.
There are no words of comfort, said Nava Shocham, who chairs the IDF Widows Association. The day, she said, was a blend of happiness, anger and frustration. "None of you really wants to be part of this group," she told the youngsters. "You would have much preferred to celebrate with a mother and a father - but that's not your reality."
She suggested that they look to Peres as a model of a person who has made the most of every opportunity in life, while suffering many disappointments yet never giving in to despair.
Arye Muallam, who heads the family and memorial department of the IDF, observed that it was not easy to be a child in Israel, and to listen to news bulletins on the radio that might be related to one's father while one's mother prayed for father to come home safe and sound. "Yet with all the pain, there is hope," he said.
Noting that Peres, as Defense Ministry director-general, defense minister and prime minister had a close-to-60-year association with Israel's defense establishment, Muallam said that no one in Israel had seen so many wars or dreamt so many dreams. "No one knows better than you what these children have lost and what they miss," he told the president.
Peres said that one of the privileges of being president was that it enabled him to speak in the name of the nation, and it was in that capacity that he told the youngsters that they were loved by the whole nation of Israel, which also salutes their fathers, whose bravery enabled Israel's continued existence.