Oct 18, 2021

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Forty-two orphaned girls from all over Israel gathered this past week in Jerusalem to celebrate their bat mitzvah. The all-day festivities were sponsored by Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest continuously-running social welfare organization. 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 with their specific needs.

Colel Chabad does all that it can for Israel’s orphans, including providing year-round tutors and mentors, enrichment programs, and financial and emotional support ,” noted Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering for the organization, to Breaking Israel News. “This bat mitzvah celebration is one of the highlights of the year and includes a four course meal, music and dancing, special guest speakers, a comedian and a trip to the grave of Biblical Rachel for prayers where the families are greeted by a professional photographer who creates a unique photo album for each one.”

A group of Bat Mitzvah girls gather as Colel Chabad celebrates their big milestone in the Holy City of Jerusalem. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

A Jewish girl becomes a bat mitzvah when she turns twelve-years old. From that age, she is obligated to keep all Biblical commandments. This is a special rite-of-passage usually welcomed with a party. However, Rabbi Traxler pointed out, many orphans would not celebrate this milestone due to financial restraint; the mothers are too busy trying to maintain their daily lives, and the orphans struggle just to cope with their loss.

“Someone else needs to make life’s important moments meaningful for these struggling families,” explained Rabbi Traxler. “Considering that it is hard for them to focus on making their young daughter feel special, Colel Chabad fills in the gaps and gives them a magical experience. So many of these young girls say that this celebratory day made them feel like a princess.”

Before the event, the families are given shopping vouchers for a new outfit to ensure that each girl feels extra special on this special occasion. The hall is decorated beautifully in pink. Upon arrival, each girl receives a crystal Sabbath candlestick, a nice piece of jewelry and a personalized prayer book. Since baking challah (Sabbath bread) is a special women’s’ Biblical commandment, the girls prepare dough while wearing personalized aprons.  

The Bat Mitzvah girls gather to bake and shape challah dough, a special “mitzvah” (Biblical doctrine) usually performed by women. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

This year, the widely known and respected Israeli Bible teacher, Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, who is well acquainted with Colel Chabad’s important welfare activities, shared warm and encouraging words with the bat mitzvah girls and their families. “As orphans, you might feel like you are no longer the daughter to your father or mother,” she said. “How do you give joy to your parent in heaven? As you are a bat mitzvah, you are now the daughter of the commandments. When you do mitzvot {Biblical commandments], you create a direct line to heaven which brings joy to your parent.”

Rabbanit Mizrachi noted that the holiness in the party hall was even greater than that of a synagogue, given that the room was filled with widows and orphans. She encouraged those present by saying, “Every prayer said in this holy congregation will be accepted in heaven.”

Naomi, a mother of seven who lost her husband Bentzion to cancer nearly two years ago, said that she was very thankful for this special opportunity for her daughter. “We met many of these families at [Colel Chabad’s] Hanukkah Retreat [for orphans and widows] 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. The way this event is run is just so beautiful and no one here feels like a charity case.”

Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Chairman of Colel Chabad, pointed out that the organization provides programs to make a real impact on the lives of orphans through remembering them at the particular times when emotional and practical support are most needed.  “Knowing that they might not be able to rely on 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,” he said.

The Bat Mitzvah girls and their families gather to hear from renowned speaker Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi at their celebration in Jerusalem (Photo: Colel Chabad)

Following the event, Colel Chabad received many heartfelt letters of appreciation from the widows and orphans. One mother pointed out that the only thing missing was, “The father or mother with eyes flooded with happiness and excitement to see their daughter enter into the covenant of the commandments, their strong and loving embrace, their infinite and tangible love -only those things were lacking.”

Another mother wrote, “What a great privilege we had to participate in the event last night. It was exciting, joyful, full of spiritual and physical content. How exciting it is to see these orphans and widows happy and receive so much attention, warmth and love…the organization’s staff appeared like “angels” helping and supporting…I saw a collection of good women and traditions who do their work with devotion and endless generosity….I came home with the feeling that it was fun for me to be a Jew. A sense of Jewish pride to belong to the loving people of Israel…we are blessed that there are wonderful people like you…To the donors who understand what it is to make so many orphans happy, I am jealous of what they have in the world to come.”

To support Colel Chabad’s Israel social welfare programs, please visit here.