(February 20, 2020 / JNS) For 42 girls who came together at the Hadar Hall in Jerusalem on Monday, the idea of a bat mitzvah celebration had been something difficult to imagine.
The girls were all united; they were orphans who have lost parents to illness or tragedy. The celebration organized by Colel Chabad was therefore specifically designed for these unique emotional challenges.
Shira Livnat-Weiss, a 32-year-old mother from Jerusalem has raised her four children without their father, who was killed in a terror attack at Joseph’s Tomb nine years ago. At the time of the attack, her oldest child was just 4. He will be celebrating his bar mitzvah in several weeks with the organization; on Feb. 17, it was his 12-year-old sister’s turn.
“The truth is that these milestones bring a level of joy to our family in ways that a few years ago I might never have believed possible,” she said.
Karen Fonfeder, originally from Los Angeles, lost her husband to sudden illness four years ago while they were expecting their sixth child.
“When their father died, the children felt that they had a scarlet letter brandished on them—that they were blemished or broken,” she said. “But when they come to an event like this, where everyone has experienced the same loss, they realize they aren’t alone. Our daughter Hadassah saw the incredible experience our son had at his bar mitzvah last year and was so excited that it was now her turn to celebrate.”
Fonfeder and the family have even more reason to celebrate, as she remarried a widower just last month.
Rabbi Itzik Marton of Colel Chabad said the vision behind the initiative—part of the yearlong education support and enrichment program—is to give a sense of normalcy to single parents who might not be able to plan these events for themselves.
“No matter when or how a child loses a parent, that experience is a lasting trauma that impacts heavily in times of celebration,” he says. “But we know that these young women and their families have already been through so much, and they deserve the same type of happiness and celebration that everyone else does when it comes to their bat mitzvah.”
All expenses for the project are covered by Colel Chabad, the Meromim Fund and Rabbi Yitzchak Mishan, head of the Bayit Congregation in São Paulo, Brazil.
Included in the festivities were a catered meal, entertainment, dancing, photo sessions, and custom albums and special gifts for each girl.
“There is no forgetting the pain which these daughters have gone through,” said Livnat-Weiss. “But on days like today, it’s amazing to see how much others are caring for them and allowing them to feel what real joy is like.”
The bat mitzvah event for these young women, and a similar one for boys next month, has been organized by Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest-running social-services organization since 1788, for more a decade. Tragically, the main organizer behind the initiative, Rabbi Amram Blau, was himself killed in an accident in 2019.
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