It's a sunny Thursday morning in Jerusalem, and one extended family after another gathers in the passageway near the half-a-millennium-old Zion Gate. Moms, Dads, grandparents, cousins from abroad exchange family news and hugs. Then each family circles around its own Huppah made of a large blue and white tallit attached to poles. A shofar blower with a long curled ram's horn and the drummer with a darbouka serenades the teenage celebrant, hatan habarmitzvah, literally the Bar Mitzvah groom. The warm air is sweet with the scent of rose-water and honey pastries and with sesame bagel-breads served with wild thyme. Then the ebullient procession walks down the winding steps of the Old City the Kotel where the ceremony continues. This is a memorable day in each Jewish child's life.
But what if your family can't muster up the emotional energy and financial resources to celebrate your Bar or Bat Mitzvah? What if your mom is a single-parent and currently homeless or your parents have six other children and they're living on welfare?
Such circumstances describe the lives of the boys and girls of Ramat Hadassah Szold youth village in Tivon, near Haifa. Nevertheless, last week, 17 Bar/Bat Mitzvah-age boys and girls of Ramat Hadassah Szold celebrated a beautiful shared Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony.
Thanks to a donor, our Ramat Hadassah Szold children and their parents were feted amidst the extended celebrations of Jerusalem Day. Several of the parents came from afar and spent the night at the Youth Village so they could journey up to Jerusalem in the morning. "Making sure the parents wound be there was the hardest part," said counselor Yoram Attias. He showed each boy how to put on a tallit, teaching the blessing, lovingly folding the collar. "Now let us sing and tell the world that Ramat Hadassah Szold is here," he urged them.
From Israelis cities and townships, from Ethiopia and Russia they walked as one jubilant group.They danced and marched to the Kotel singing, pausing midway to receive the blessings and wishes for their future from President Nancy Falchuk and the 300,000 women and associates of Hadassah. They agreed to add to the prayers wishes for a speedy recovery for the husband of a Hadassah member from Hawaii whose e-mail had arrived that very morning.
"The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the most important lesson is not to be afraid." They sang these heartening words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. "We believe that we have no one to lean on but God," was the next song. Finally, with arms linked, they sang and danced, " Henei ma tov…How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together."
One mom was wiping away tears of joy. "My son was failing in school and had no self-esteem, but today he's a good student and looking forward to the army," That's why my daughter is here now. Somehow, I couldn't give them at home what they needed."
Another mom spoke about her dreams of Jerusalem when she came from Ethiopia on Operation Solomon. Her family is still struggling to make ends meet. "I'm so appreciative of what Ramat Hadassah Szold has done for my son."
At the Kotel, the group split into two. The boys had a lesson in laying tefillin and the girls recited prayers and psalms. Each of them whispered their prayers and wishes into the ancient stones of the Kotel. And then, it was party time. Off they went for lunch and dancing at a Jerusalem wedding hall. A day to remember forever.