“I cannot fall asleep, I keep looking at the photos from this evening’s ceremony and phrases from the various things that were said keep popping into my mind. I see my grandmother’s face before me and my mother’s, and I feel happy, somehow… safe? Because I know that my precious daughter, Lihi, has embraced her heritage over the past few months, in an atmosphere that was so exciting, interesting, meaningful, loving, warm and accepting that it strengthened my own connection to Judaism as well. We are so proud to be links in the Jewish chain and want to thank you for taking us on this incredible journey.”
These words were texted late last night to Galit Hamber, the Yachad Program‘s Jewish Cultural Facilitator in South Netanya, in the wake of a Bat Mitzva ceremony and party which capped a three-month long mother-daughter course.
Lihi and her mother represent just one of hundreds of families across Israel who have established a new relationship with Judaism through participation in a Yachad Bar or Bat Mitzva workshop, relates Betzalel Safra, Yachad’s Director. “Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzva ought to be a meaningful point in every Jewish boy and girl’s life,” Safra says. “Our facilitators reach out to teens of all affiliations, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds by partnering not only with the community centers but also with the local schools and city municipalities. The courses we offer engage them in hands-on exploration of their country, values, identity and traditions, imbuing their coming-of-age with real significance.”
Partnership and Inclusion
“The Bar Mitzva program that my son and I participated in was thoroughly engaging and even fun, and it was a truly special opportunity for my son Yoeli and me to spend quality time together,” shares Eran Ayubi of Ashkelon. “But what was really powerful is the way it made us think about our values and about Jewish traditions in a completely accepting, warm environment. It is so refreshing to approach Judaism from a place of love rather than from a place of coercion; it inspires us to want to connect in a deeper and more significant way.”
Tamar Reiter of Jerusalem’s Givat Massuah neighborhood agrees. “Our group was comprised of secular, traditional and religious mothers and daughters, and as a result each session’s subject was approached from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds,” she relates. “But more important than the material we covered was the prevailing atmosphere of partnership and inclusion. The program provided us, the secular participants, with a safe place to explore Judaism and ask meaningful questions. This atmosphere of acceptance enables and promotes our connection to Judaism far more than anything else,” she declares.
Feeling Like We Belong
“I have found that most Israelis who identify as secular are not opposed to making Judaism part of their lives,” remarks Raanana facilitator Kobi Pesel, who ran several Bar and Bat Mitzva initiatives throughout the city. “Most parents are interested in their children preserving a connection to Judaism, but because so many are not affiliated with a synagogue, are scared of religious ritual or have been alienated by bad experiences, they don’t know where to begin. They are thirsty for a meaningful connection,” he asserts.
Pesel’s words are confirmed in a letter from Moshe Halevi, a resident of Bat Yam who participated in a Bar Mitzva workshop with his son, Ido. “I never wanted to have anything to do with religious ritual or practice,” he wrote. “I joined the program because I wanted my son’s bar Mitzva to have meaning. Well, in the end, the joke was on me! This course hit me deep in my soul and made me realize that there is another way. We are moving forward toward a life of connecting to our past and strengthening our future,” he continued. “What an empowering feeling it is to finally belong!”