Kotel bar mitzva for 29-year-old Slovenian

Zoran Licen had never prayed in Hebrew.

kotel 88 (photo credit: )
kotel 88
(photo credit: )
He expected to be listening to lectures and touring Israel on the Diplomatic Seminar for young Jewish leaders. He didn't anticipate celebrating his bar mitzva here. But that's what happened at the Western Wall on Thursday to 29-year-old Zoran Licen from Maribor, Slovenia - a city of over 100,000 with a Jewish population under 150. Licen said he did not have a bar mitzva at age 13 because his community lacked the necessary religious infrastructure. "In Slovenia there's a small Jewish community," Licen said. "We don't have all of these services. We don't even have a rabbi. So [the program's participants] said, 'Let's make a bar mitzva here.'" A rabbi and friends from the program arranged the ceremony for Licen, who has been to Israel 10 times but had never prayed in Hebrew before. "We had the ceremony at the Western Wall, which was an honor," Licen said. "It's not usual, not even for people here. Praying is something I've always wished to do, but you can't if you've never tried before." Licen said he feels a bond with Israel and plans to advocate for the country for the rest of his life. "I try to be rational, so I'm not going to become very religious, but it's a new value in my life and I will keep it," he said. "I decided for myself to do this. I was not forced." Licen said that in his view, having a late bar mitzva was better than to have undergone the ceremony at age 13. The seminar focuses on training young Jewish leaders aged 25-35 in Israel advocacy. "It's a program in which we try to bring people of leadership potential in every field and give them tools to be activists on behalf of Israel," said Akiva Tor, director of the Department for Jewish communities in the Foreign Ministry. "What were looking for is deep commitment and a willingness to be an advocate for Israel." Licen enjoyed the educational aspect of the program but said that the bar mitzva was a transformative experience. "We danced, prayed, and sang," he said. "Everything was very emotional, very touching. I'm still not sure that it [really] happened."