IDF embraces its bar and bat mitzva-aged orphans

Many Israeli children grow up with only one parent because the other was killed in the line of duty.

Peres and Gantz at ceremony 370 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Peres and Gantz at ceremony 370 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Many children of members of the IDF and Israel’s security services grow up with only one parent – usually a mother – because the other was killed in the line of duty, sometimes before the child was even born.
It’s a heavy load for both mothers and children. But the IDF’s Association for Widows and Orphans, together with the army’s Family and Perpetuation branch, the Israel Police and a number of philanthropic organizations in Israel and abroad, do everything possible to give them happy family experiences.
Throughout the year they engage families by offering sporting activities, hikes and picnics all over the country. But they really go out of their way with an annual bar and bat mitzva celebration, as they did Monday by bringing 33 youngsters and members of their families to Jerusalem to tour Ammunition Hill and other sites, eat lavishly, be called to the Torah at the Western Wall, get loads of entertainment at the Jerusalem Theater, and meet President Shimon Peres and Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz.
This year the celebration evolved into an even more memorable event. The entertainment was upgraded, and this time the president, who usually receives the celebrants at his official home, came to them (which was no great hardship, as the Jerusalem Theater is back-to-back with the rear entrance to the President’s Residence.) Peres, accompanied by Gantz, came to the theater directly from a meeting with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, which had concluded only minutes before their arrival.
The honorees, wearing white shirts with a big blue 13 on the back for the boys and a red 12 for the girls, were sitting on the stage as Peres mounted. He embraced some of them but made a point of shaking hands with all of them.
Several of the youngsters gave brief accounts of their fathers and the circumstances in which they fell. As they spoke, virtual candles of memory and hope were lit on an on-screen menorah.
“You’re the most precious things we have,” Peres told the youngsters.
He noted that no other country, particularly one as small as Israel, had been forced to fight seven wars in a span of 64 years.
Logically, all those wars should have been lost, he said, because Israel was outnumbered and had far fewer armaments. But love of country coupled with the determination and commitment of soldiers who were willing to lay down their lives for the security of the nation had resulted in victory after victory.
Looking back at his own bar mitzva, Peres told the children that they were much more mature and much better informed than people their age had been in his generation. Responsibility had also been thrust on them at a much earlier age, because in a home where there is no father the eldest child often has to take on his role for younger siblings.
Nava Shoham Solan, who chairs the IDF Widows and Orphans Association, said that as a mother who raised her children alone, she understood the emotional upheavals that each and every bereaved family experiences while marking such a milestone for its children. It is difficult to be happy while thinking of a mother or a father who isn’t there on such an important day, she said.
Solan also noted that among the honorees were youngsters from the western Negev, who in addition to suffering the loss of a parent were constantly being bombarded by rockets from Gaza.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was busy due to the upcoming elections, sent a video in which he congratulated the youngsters and expressed the wish that each would realize his or her dreams and contribute to the development of the nation.
Gantz told them that everyone would like to turn the clock back so that a celebration of this kind, without a parent, could be prevented. He wanted them to be like others in their peer group, balancing difficult moments with moments of joy, and that eventually the joy would outweigh the sorrow.
Their parents had not chosen to die, he explained, but they wanted to serve the nation and paid the highest price for their valor. Everyone, not just their families, was obligated to remember their sacrifice, he declared.