Coming of Age at Meir Panim

Or Akiva Branch celebrates festive Bar Mitzvah for four celebrants.

 The Bar Mitzvah celebrations in Or Akiva (photo credit: Courtesy Of Meir Panim)
The Bar Mitzvah celebrations in Or Akiva
(photo credit: Courtesy Of Meir Panim)

In early August, Ilanit Hafuta, the legendary, indefatigable  Branch Manager of Meir Panim’s Or Akiva branch, was busier than usual. That’s because, on August 2 and 3, the organization celebrated the Bar Mitzvahs of four Or Akiva residents whose families are clients of Meir Panim.  

Each of the four boys arrived at their Bar Mitzvah day under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. One is the son of a single father that is disabled and is one of nine siblings, two are brothers, also with numerous siblings, who are being raised by a single mother. The fourth is a recent Ukrainian refugee whose parents are divorced.

The Bar Mitzvah celebrations in Or Akiva (Credit: Courtesy Of Meir Panim)
The Bar Mitzvah celebrations in Or Akiva (Credit: Courtesy Of Meir Panim)

On Wednesday evening, August 2, a gala dinner was held honoring the Bar Mitzvah celebrants and their families in Or Akiva. Hafuta and her team prepared a vast array of dishes, including twenty different types of salads, six kinds of meat dishes, and much, much more. The four young men were each presented with tefillin, a watch, and new clothes to mark this most significant event. Tefillin are two small black leather boxes with black straps containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. Jewish adult males are required to don tefillin each weekday morning. One box is placed on the upper arm, and one is placed on the head.

The next morning, the group gathered at a synagogue in Or Akiva for morning services. The four celebrants donned their tefillin, read the Torah expertly, and were honored for their passage into the world of Jewish adulthood. The Bar Mitzvah boys were well-prepared by Meir Panim staff and knew how to put on their tefillin and read from the Torah. Following the event, a sumptuous brunch was served. The celebration was capped off with festive Shabbat meals for the boys and their families.

Apart from the food for the brunch, which was prepared at Meir Panim’s Or Akiva facility within the organization’s budget, all of the costs of the event were donated and earmarked specifically for the Bar Mitzvah.

Ilanit Hafuta explains that planning and conducting separate Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations for the children of Meir Panim clients is an annual tradition. Bat Mitzvah girls experience a special day with Meir Panim staff, enjoy a special evening out at a restaurant, and are honored with a special celebration dinner similar to the Bar Mitzvah celebration, where they receive watches and new clothes.

Hafuta points out that the Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations are much more than a party. “When you become an adult by celebrating your Bar and Bat Mitzvah, you are responsible for your actions.” It is for that reason, she explains, that all Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants spend a day volunteering at Meir Panim, preparing food, delivering food to the elderly, and spreading good cheer.

Mimi Rozmaryn, Meir Panim’s Director of Global Development, adds that some families who are not affiliated with Meir Panim have chosen to celebrate upcoming Bat Mitzvah celebrations by volunteering at Meir Panim, enabling them to help others and give back to the community at large  One Bat Mitzvah celebrant, she recalls, arrived at Meir Panim’s Jerusalem Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchen,  together with her mother and both sets of grandparents. All the family members participated, preparing food and serving, and the Bat Mitzvah girl brought trays to clients, greeting each one with a smile.

“We make these Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations for the children at Meir Panim as if they were our own children,” says Ilanit. We are there for them. I did not give birth to these children, but I view them as if they are my own.”

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This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim