Last month, the Jewish Agency for Israel organized for seven young Jews a bar and bat mitzvah celebration in one of the northernmost Jewish communities in the world— Murmansk, Russia (largest city north of the Arctic Circle). The Jewish community in Murmansk is twinned with Beth Israel- the West Temple in Cleveland and so the event was organized with the support of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
The small Jewish community of Murmansk numbers only a few hundred and does not have a synagogue. Jewish teenagers in the city were uncertain whether it was accepted practice to celebrate their bat or bar mitzvah once they had passed the ages of 12 or 13, but after they had read in the media that the chairperson of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, had celebrated his own bar mitzvah at age 65, they asked the Jewish Agency to organize a ceremony for the city’s Jewish youth.
Jewish Agency Youth Emissary Sagi Rabovski traveled the 870 miles from St Petersburg to organize the ceremony. Each of the participants was presented with a copy of the Chumash (Five books of Moses).
Rabovski said after the ceremony: “I feel that it is my mission to help even the smallest Jewish communities. By connecting Jews to Israel and the Jewish tradition, we can strengthen their Jewish identity.”
Murmansk suffers from bitter cold winters and on the day of the ceremony, the entrance to the Jewish Agency building in the city was blocked by snow, requiring the participants to dig their way in.
The Jewish Agency for Israel runs Hebrew and Jewish history classes for the small Jewish population of the city. Members of the Beth Israel- the West Temple sent gifts to the Murnmask community for Hanukah and members of the two communities regularly exchange personal messages via email.