Just weeks after being forced to flee their homes in the town of Zhytomyr, Ukraine, a group of 13-year-old boys participated in a bar mitzvah celebration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Monday.

The boys and their classmates, all of whom lived in an orphanage in the town near Kyiv, were part of an annual ceremony for orphan boys made possible by the Israeli social-services agency Colel Chabad.

They are among the more than 100 kids who were evacuated to Israel and are currently living in the village of Nes Harim outside of Jerusalem. Organizers of the event say that while the children dream of returning to Ukraine as soon as possible, the ongoing war makes their future uncertain.

“Our goal with this event is to provide each and every boy here, all of whom have experienced their own individual traumas, with the understanding that this special point in their lives has not been forgotten,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad. “There is something incredibly rewarding to know that these boys, whose lives were in complete turmoil amid a brutal war just a few weeks ago, are now blessed to celebrate their bar mitzvahs at this holiest and most special of places.”

The event is held annually on the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. It provides a complete bar mitzvah experience for boys who have lost a parent to illness, accidents, terror attacks and other calamities.

The boys were given a brand-new set of tefillin and gift certificates for new clothing, along with other presents.

After the ceremony, they went by bus with family members to the Jerusalem Convention Center at Binyanei Hauma for a fully-catered celebration accompanied by musical entertainment and other surprises. The event was supported by the Meromim Foundation and the Goldman Family.

A separate bat mitzvah event was held last month for girls.

Among the bar mitzvah boys who came from the Zhytomyr orphanage was Tima Kobakov, who described in English how appreciative he was that Israel has provided a home for him and his siblings in the face of the ongoing challenges in Ukraine. “I don’t know how to explain what I am feeling,” he said. “I can only say I am very happy, and this is a special day.”

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