Forty youngsters at the Jewish Agency’s Tzahal Absorption Center in Tzfat are completing this month a unique program preparing them both spiritually and practically for their bar/bat mitzvah year. In its sixth year, the program is in coordination with the British United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). The UJIA has a special relationship with the Galilee which expresses itself through the Partnership 2000 region of Shlomi, Maaleh Yosef, Merom Hagalil, and other special programs with Galilee communities, including Tzfat.
The six-month course culminates with a day of celebrations in Jerusalem together with family, rabbis and educators, and British visitors, including bar/bat mitzvah youth who are twinned with the Ethiopians. Starting two years ago, the twinning program enables British youth to make lasting friendships with their peers in Israel who come from a totally different background. This year twelve British children are twinned with the immigrants. Often the British families include a visit to the immigrant family in Tzfat on their itinerary.
Behrun Alahin is twinned with David Tuck of Manchester. One of nine siblings, Berhun’s youngest sister was born in Israel after the family came to Israel in 2005. His parents have recently completed Ulpan.
Berhun’s father, Metiku, recalls that in Ethiopia when a boy turned 13, he attended a religious ceremony with his family and received blessings from the kes. Each family handed down to the boy a special knife – intended for ritual slaughter in the future. Girls reaching the age of 12 did not mark the event.
David and Berhun corresponded by email through interpreters, discovering that between soccer, music and computer games they had a lot in common. The two boys met in February when the Tuck family visited Tzfat. The ice broke over a game that the Tucks gave Berhun. “It was a lot of fun to watch them interact and play. Without any ability to communicate verbally, they clicked immediately,” says Yonatan Freedman, director of the Tzahal Absorption Center.
David’s mother, Jo Tuck, said about the visit: “This meeting lasted a short time but was a highlight of our trip. We hope that this experience shows our children that we have a shared identity as Jews across the world.”
Weekly classes at the absorption center during the first four months of the program focus on Jewish identity, the connection to the land of Israel, and the transition from childhood to adulthood. “The bar/bat mitzvah activities have a religious aspect and strengthen the children’s link to the country,” says Rafi Trabelsi, social coordinator at the absorption center. “They learn about basic mitzvahs, holidays and customs.”
The second part of the program is the experiential component, developed by the staff of Livnot U'Lehibanot in the heart of the Old City of Tzfat. Throughout the year, Livnot U'Lehibanot offers programs for Jewish adults aged 21-30 who have little previous knowledge of Judaism but are interested in exploring their Jewish roots (including participants of birthright and the Jewish Agency’s Masa program).
|Bar mitzvah preparations at the Livnot campus in Tzfat (photo credit: Rafi Trabelsi)|
“The location of Livnot U’lehibanot in the Old City creates a different atmosphere than the one they have at the absorption center,” says Meir Paltiel, director of programs. “It definitely makes an impression on the children.”
At Livnot’s campus facing the majestic Mt. Meron, Rabbi Micha Peled and other educators introduce the basics of Judaism in sessions that involve hands-on activities. The boys learn about tzitzit and how to put on tefillin after observing a scribe at work. The girls learn the importance of challah and make bread. They create candle holders, learning the significance of candles in Jewish tradition. Both boys and girls participate in trips near Tzfat, a barbeque and a Shabbat in the Old City. Sometimes participants on Livnot’s programs help out as do students of the Tzfat Hesder Yeshiva.
In one session, Behrun reenacted with friends stories from the Bible, thus reinforcing his appreciation of learning Torah. “I liked learning about the structure of the verses written on the tefillin parchment,” he notes.
All boys receive from the UJIA a tallis and tefillin, while the girls receive candlesticks and a necklace with a Magen David. The UJIA, the only Jewish charity that works in both Israel and the UK with young people and education, also outfits the celebrants from head to toe for their milestone event.
During the last week of the program in July, the young olim camp for four days in the Jerusalem area. On the last day they celebrate their bar/bat mitzvah in an emotional ceremony in a Jerusalem synagogue, followed by a banquet and salutation by the Federation of Zionist Youth.
Berhun’s parents are thrilled with their son’s bar mitzvah program and look forward to their younger son’s participation. Inspired by his son, Metiku Alahin has started putting on his own tefillin on a daily basis.
Written by Batsheva Pomerantz