Jan 26, 2021

For the past 14 years, Ilanit Hafuta has lovingly served as the Meir Panim Branch Manager in Israel’s northern community of Or Akiva. She is the driving force behind ensuring that anyone from Holocaust survivors to poverty-stricken families and troubled youth receive the love, care and attention they need for a better today and a more hopeful tomorrow.

So when it came to her attention that Jacob Cohen’s (pseudonym) bar mitzvah was approaching and the family had no means to properly celebrate this important Jewish rite of passage, Hafuta gathered her well-seasoned team of do-gooders to help the teen.

Ilanit Hatufa and Jacob Cohen celebrate his Bar Mitzvah (Courtesy Meir Panim)

“Ilanit’s loving kindness through her work with Meir Panim has helped a whole generation of needy people,” Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, shared with Breaking Israel News. “When she says help is needed, Meir Panim does what we can to fill the need.”

Bar mitzvahs are traditionally celebrated when a Jewish boy turns 13 years old. The boy is called up in a house of prayer to read the weekly Torah portion. In order for the child to do this honorably he is tutored for up to a year, as there are required cantillations and the reading must flow smoothly for the congregants to be able to follow. This practice dates back to Ezra the Scribe in 537 BCE, as described in the Book of Nehemiah, Chapter 8.

Additionally, the bar mitzvah boy receives his own prayer book (siddur), prayer shawl (tallit), and phylacteries (tefillin) – which are a set of small black leather boxes containing inscribed parchment to be worn every morning (except on Shabbat and holidays) during the daily prayer service, as commanded in the Bible.

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Once the boy has donned his tallit and tefillin, prayed and read from the Torah, a celebratory meal is served. “Jacob came to me as his bar mitzvah neared,” Hafuta explained to Breaking Israel News. “He said that he ‘just wanted to be like other children who have a proper bar mitzvah.’ I knew that we had to help him.”

Hafuta arranged for Jacob to receive the tutoring he needed to learn the Torah portion. New clothing was purchased for the occasion along with the costly siddur, tallit and tefillin. The Or Akiva Meir Panim restaurant-style soup kitchen was transformed into a party hall. Meir Panim prepared a festive meal for Jacob’s friends and family.

“Four of the Cohen’s children have come through the Meir Panim TikvaHope after-school program,” noted Hafuta. “Their mother is single and supports her large family by housekeeping. Their grandmother is so grateful for the help that Meir Panim has given their family over many years that she regularly volunteers for the organization. We are all truly one family.”

Meir Panim helps to alleviate and diminish the harmful effects of poverty on thousands of men, women and children across Israel through a network of food and social programs. To donate to Meir Panim, please click here.