A Meaningful Rite of Passage
Becoming a bar or bat mitzva is a rite of passage for all streams of Judaism in communities around the world. But ironically, in the Jewish state of Israel, many secular Jews do not have the resources needed to make the milestone event meaningful at their fingertips. The Yachad Program for Jewish Identity steps in to provide each young boy and girl with a meaningful and exciting experience through which their Jewish identity is strengthened and they become strong links in the generational Jewish chain.
In Jewish communities around the world, a family interested in marking their son or daughter’s bar or bat mitzva has access to a local Jewish day school, a synagogue, a Hebrew school or after school program which enables them to learn about the milestone event and celebrate it in a meaningful manner.
But ironically, in the Jewish state of Israel, the experience is not available to everyone. What if you are a secular Israeli Jew who wants to pass Jewish heritage on to your children but don’t feel comfortable in a synagogue? What if you grew up in the Former Soviet Union and don’t have the tools to teach your child because you yourself have not had a Jewish education? What if you are in a difficult economic situation? You cannot afford a tutor, and a party to celebrate with friends and family is out of the question.
OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity provides welcoming and meaningful Jewish programming to secular Jews, with the aim of connecting Jews of all backgrounds and ages to Judaism through experiential, welcoming classes and activities in community centers throughout the country. As part of this mission, the Yachad Program’s Jewish Cultural Coordinators also offer bar and bat mitzva programs, giving children the chance to prepare for their “coming of age” through classes that explore basic Jewish values and include volunteer opportunities.
Connecting Russian-Israelis to their Jewish Roots
“I grew up in Russia and my husband came from Peru,” relates Maria, a resident of Haifa. “We bring our children to all of the Yachad events during the course of the year, because we want to make sure that they understand their relationship to their Jewish heritage, but neither of us feels qualified to do that.”
Maria’s son Yoav just completed a bar mitzva course with Haifa’s Yachad coordinator, Lidia Stalmah, along with seven other boys his age. “It was so meaningful for to learn about the significance of becoming a bar mitzvah and travel to Jerusalem to visit the Kotel and celebrate in the Old City,” he says.
Everyone Has Something to Give
Another Yachad facilitator, Coby Pessel, just facilitated a bar and bat mitzva program for 16 disadvantaged families in the city of Raanana, where he serves as the Jewish Cultural Coordinator. Over the course of four months, participants learned about leading Jewish figures and the values and lessons we can learn from each one. When discussing Avraham, the group focused on the importance of giving to others; in the session on Rabbi Akiva, the children explored their own ability to make changes and accomplish important goals in their lives. In addition to learning, participants packaged food for needy families, actualizing the message that everyone has something to give.
“All of these families were referred to me by the Ministry of Social Welfare, and I wanted them to experience a meaningful process on the road to becoming a bar or bat mitzva, and to give them memories they would never forget,” notes Pessel. “They are poor, and they are used to receiving help from others. It was so meaningful to teach them that everyone can also be on the giving end, and that each one of us can reach high and change our lives.”