This week in Jerusalem, 42 orphaned girls dressed in their finest clothes celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs together with their families and friends at the Gutnick Hall run by Colel Chabad, the oldest continuously-running social welfare organization in Israel since 1788.
And while there were some tears — the occasional wet eyes of a mother and grandmother — the joy and smiles could be felt throughout the entire event hall.
Starting the day’s activities with professional portraits and a personalized album, the girls went on to participate in a workshop where they learned about the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah (separating challah dough), and then sat down to a catered four course meal for family and friends, complete with entertainment, music and dancing. Each special girl received a personalized bat mitzvah gift as well.
Naomi, a mother of seven, lost her husband Bentzion to cancer nearly two years ago. She says she was very thankful for the opportunity for her daughter Heichal to take part in the Bat Mitzvah. Her son wasn’t able to participate in the Bar Mitzvah program last year because he was still in his year of mourning but she says she hopes her younger sons can take part when their turn comes.
“We met many of these families at the Chanukah Retreat this year. It’s such an important thing for mothers to stay in touch, and for our children to have others who understand what they are going through,” said Naomi. Heichal brought four of her friends to celebrate with her and all the other girls.
“It might sound funny to say, but because my daughter lost her father she gets to take part in special events such as this one and that makes her special to her friends. The way this event is run is just so beautiful and no one here feels like a charity case.”
The Bat Mitzvah celebration program, now in its sixth year, is one of many run by the organization, which places a strong emphasis on helping widows and orphans. Colel Chabad works to help each family to their specific needs.
“Being here with my daughter Adi is very moving,” said Vered Leshem, whose husband Doron also passed away nearly two years ago from cancer. “Adi’s friend participated in the Bat Mitzvah celebration last year and we came and saw how wonderful it is and how much thought is put into putting the whole event together. From the programming all the way down to the little details, like the personalized aprons for each girl, it’s incredible.”
“We work to design our efforts in ways that can make a real impact on the lives of these children by remembering them at the times that they need emotional and practical support the most,” says Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Chairman of Colel Chabad. “Knowing that they might not be able to rely on the traditional family support to celebrate, we make every effort to give them a chance to enjoy and relax in ways that many might take for granted.”