A twin-win situation
For a bar or batmitzvah, there is a new way to get into the party spirit, says Danielle Mann
IREMEMBER my batmitzvah 15 years ago. A lavish affair in a boat on the Thames, filled with friends, food and entertainment. At the end of the evening, I dived straight into the part I’d been waiting for for days — opening all my presents! The whole thing was really quite self-centred. I’d reached an important milestone in my Jewish journey. I was developing from a little girl into a young lady — one who was supposed to be accepting the adult responsibilities of family, community and Jewish identity — and all I could do was party!
These days, bar/batmitzvah boys and girls are so aware of the importance of contributing to their community and they are engaging in charity projects as part of their bar or batmitzvah celebrations. And there are hundreds of charities, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the UK, Israel and elsewhere, who welcome the support from these young adults, for fund-raising and awareness-building.
“When we started thinking about Ella’s batmitzvah, we strongly felt that there should be some sort of spiritual going-on too. We wanted her to learn that it’s not ‘always about you’ and that it’s important to give to your community,” remarks Lindsay Davidson.
“We recruited 20 of Ella’s friends and spent the afternoon at the Camp Simcha House in Hendon,” continues Lindsay.
“The girls wrapped gifts they had brought for sick children in hospital and prepared outing bags for families who were going on a Camp Simcha respite retreat. It showed them how precious and fragile life is and that there are people in our community who need our support.”
Helping other kids is particularly appealing to many children, while some especially want to support something Israel-related. Meir Panim, an Israeli outreach organisation, combines both.
“As an organisation that focuses a huge part of its efforts on alleviating poverty among Israeli children, it’s something that children abroad can really connect with,” says Gabriel Blauer, executive director of the UK branch of Meir Panim. Its Project Connect encourages children across the world to twin their bar or batmitzvah with that of a needy child in Israel. They can donate a proportion of their gift money to help pay for their twin’s bar or batmitzvah, organise a fund-raising event or do something more long-term.
Twelve-year-old Isabelle Sehati, from New York started a yearlong pen-pal project between her friends and girls at a school supported by Meir Panim in Kiryat Malachi, southern Israel.
“I specifically wanted to reach out to disadvantaged Israeli girls my own age,” she says. “I wanted them to have someone to talk to, someone to make them feel special and loved.”
The girls wrote letters and sent gifts and in summer the girls from America flew over for a joint batmitzvah party with their pen-pals.
“We lived worlds apart — not just in terms of continents, but experiences too,” says Isabelle. “But I quickly realised that it doesn’t matter where you are or what language you speak, it’s easy to find things in common and talk like normal friends.” Tali, Isabelle’s mother, adds: “Many of these kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It was humbling and we all got a glimpse into what’s truly important in life.”
Israeli charity Reuth Medical Centre, encourages participants of its B’nai Mitzvah Friends programme to maximise their individual talents. The only rehab hospital in Tel Aviv, the centre helps thousands of patients every year, including soldiers, victims of terrorist attacks and those who have been injured in car accidents.
“We tailor each project so it suits the person who is donating time or money,” says Miriam Frankel, deputy executive director of Reuth. Children who play an instrument may donate money to the music therapy department or perform for patients and those who like sports can host a football tournament to raise funds for inhouse sports and physiotherapy.
“One boy from England wrote and illustrated a story book which is now read by sick children and their siblings,” Frankel continues. “It’s all about establishing a connection. If a child of 12 or 13 creates a strong connection with Reuth now, it can lead to a lasting relationship in the future.”
Londoner Sophie Grabiner (third from left) celebrates her batmitzvah with “twin” Birtokan Tamsagan (fourth from left) in Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, as part of UJIA’s Ethiopian bar/bat mitzvah programme