A group of 121 orphaned boys celebrated their bar mitzvah together in Jerusalem this week, marking the occasion at the Western Wall in an effort organized by Colel Chabad, a veteran social services group in Israel.
The program for bar mitzvah boys who have suffered the loss of a parent has run since 2002.
The event brought together families from all over the country to celebrate the traditional coming-of-age ceremony with an aliya to the Torah and a gala party at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center hall.
Upon receiving their tefillin, the young men were individually danced down to the Kotel on the shoulders of volunteers.
“It’s a very emotional experience being here with my son, but it’s truly wonderful to have reached this day,” said one mother from Hod Hasharon whose husband passed away when their son was three.
“Colel Chabad and the Chessed Menachem Mendel Program do amazing things for families, including ours, giving strength and support, exactly when and how we need it,” said a mother of five children from Har Bracha whose husband passed away 7 years ago. “This is our third bar mitzvah celebration with Colel Chabad and it’s always a happy occasion, bringing joy and connection to our family.”
Protests and turmoil in Jerusalem
This year's celebration was set against a backdrop of ongoing protests and turmoil in Jerusalem surrounding the proposed judicial reform.
Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad, who came to Israel specifically to join the celebration, noted the contrast of celebrating a happy occasion amid challenging times.
“Particularly in these painful days of challenge for Israel and the Jewish people we have to stand up and gather together and highlight that there are still many things that unite us. As Jews, we have always welcomed the chance to have different opinions and to debate, but we have to remember that there are things that must always bring us back to who we are as a people and a Jewish nation. The connection to Hashem, the connection to Torah and our traditions, this is what the Bar Mitzvah is about – uniting all Jews together," he said.