Bet­ter late...

Holo­caust sur­vivors cel­e­brate bar, bat mitzva mile­stones

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By TA­MARA ZIEVE (Noam Moskovich)

The Holo­caust de­prived them of cel­e­brat­ing an im­por­tant Jewish mile­stone, but on Mon­day, 45 sur­vivors fi­nally cel­e­brated their bar and bat mitzva cer­e­monies for the first time, at a com­mu­nal event at the Western Wall.

The par­tic­i­pants are all Is­raeli cit­i­zens who em­i­grated from the for­mer Soviet Union.

“We ran away with noth­ing but the clothes we had on us,” re­called Aspir Ravicher, 89, who was 11-years-old when World War II broke out. Her fam­ily fled from their homes in Ukraine to Rus­sia. “We had noth­ing, we were hun­gry all the time, we lived in a crowded place. I re­mem­ber that it was mostly cold and I was very hun­gry. A bat mitzva was not some­thing we could have done,” she ex­plained.

“I am so ex­cited and happy,” said Alexan­der Buch­nik, 87, who reached bar mitzva age im­me­di­ately upon the lib­er­a­tion of Moscow from the Nazis. When the war ended, his fam­ily re­turned to the city, “but we could not cel­e­brate my bar mitzva,” he said, be­cause his mother “was busy sur­viv­ing and keep­ing us alive. We could not think about it at all.”

In 1994, Buch­nik im­mi­grated to Is­rael with his fam­ily and said that he had long been wait­ing for the mo­ment when he would cel­e­brate his bar mitzva. “I thought about it dur­ing the course of my life, and all my life I felt that I missed it so much.”

Jews were forced to hide their re­li­gious iden­tity not only dur­ing the war but also dur­ing the com­mu­nist rule in the years that fol­lowed.

Se­myon Lieb­man, 83, was a young boy in St. Peters­burg when the war broke out. Along with his sis­ter and mother, he was forced to leave his home and wan­der through­out the years of the war. Af­ter the war, the fam­ily re­turned to live in the St. Peters­burg area.

“When we came back, it was for­bid­den to talk about Ju­daism or any­thing about the bar mitzva, so we did not talk about it at all,” he said. “I feel like a lit­tle boy today! I’ve been ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing this day through­out my life.”

The mov­ing cer­e­mony was spon­sored by the Western Wall Her­itage Foun­da­tion, Is­rael’s Of­fice for So­cial Equal­ity and the In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship of Chris­tians and Jews (IFCJ). The sur­vivors were joined by their fam­i­lies at the event, which in­cluded a tour of the tun­nels un­der the Western Wall. The men put on tefillin and read from the To­rah, while the women par­tic­i­pated in an­other cer­e­mony at the Western Wall Tun­nels Hall. The group ended the cel­e­bra­tion din­ing to­gether.

The Western Wall Her­itage Foun­da­tion said that the cer­e­mony was among the high points of the Western Wall’s his­tory. “Light and dark­ness are mixed here, but hope is ab­so­lute, and there is con­crete ev­i­dence of the eter­nity of the Jewish peo­ple,” the foun­da­tion said in a state­ment. “The event leaves its mark on the par­tic­i­pants and sym­bol­izes re­venge against the Nazi en­emy in the form of a re­turn to the Jewish tra­di­tion and proof that it is never too late.”

IFCJ’s founder and pres­i­dent, Rabbi Yechiel Eck­stein, said: “I find it dif­fi­cult to think of any­thing more in­spir­ing than el­derly Holo­caust sur­vivors who re­ceive a late bar and bat mitzva cel­e­bra­tion in the holi­est place for the Jewish peo­ple, af­ter sur­viv­ing the ter­ror of the Nazis and hav­ing their child­hood stolen from them.”

Eck­stein con­tin­ued: “These sur­vivors are heroes. I am so grate­ful to be part of this mo­men­tous ex­pe­ri­ence for them. We help these sur­vivors through­out the year and I wel­come the op­por­tu­nity we have been given to be part of this ex­cit­ing event.”

A HOLO­CAUST SUR­VIVOR puts on tefillin to cel­e­brate his be­lated bar mitzva at the Western Wall on Mon­day.

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