” I was not fortunate to have the opportunity of celebrating my Bar- Mitzva at the Kotel as you have.” Began the Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef as he spoke to the 130 European boys and girls during their gala Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration. The Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Moshe Leon opened his greetings by singing the verse ” Jerusalem, Praise the Lord”. He was pleasantly surprised when many of the youth joined in and sang with him.
The Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Places Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch told the audience how excited he was when he saw all the boys putting on their Tefillin, many for the first time.
These were the exciting moments that will be remembered forever. The participants aged 12-13 from Germany, Spain, Ukraine and Russia, experienced an empowering Bar/Bat mitzvah Trip for a week in Israel. The Morasha division of the RCE initiated the trip and was assisted by a long line of charitable foundations. (The Meromim fund run by Rabbi Benzion Lipsker, The Danieli Fund run by philanthropist Moti Sonnenfeld) Along with government agencies (The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, the Zionist Organization) and private individuals (entrepreneur Rami Levy, “Hashikma Marketing”), who generously assisted in financing the extreme expense of the trip.
This RCE has completed 12 consecutive trips RCE chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin stated that the RCE invested an incredible amount of time and effort to ensure the participant’s maximum satisfaction. We know that the memories of trip will be etched in their hearts forever. Some of the guides and mentors were graduates from the first trips” Rabbi Margolin added.
The reception committee RCE’s Director General Rabbi Arie Goldberg and Deputy Director General Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker personally received the various European groups as they arrived in Israel. Throughout the whole journey, the boys and girls were accompanied by their community Rabbis, Rebbetzins and counselors with the purpose of exposing them to Judaism and the Land of Israel. All of the children have a Jewish mother. Many of the children attend Non-Jewish local schools, but participate in the Jewish activities in the community. The trip started up North, where they visited Jewish heritage sites of the aspired to connect them to their Jewish identity.
There are many opportunities to connect with Jewish identity. One of the Ukrainian the rabbis told us that he found out a boy turned 13. “Put on Tefillin,” the rabbi suggested to him. The boy lives in his district but not in the same city. The boy agreed. After helping him put on tefillin, the rabbi went for a moment to bring the boy the “Shema Yisrael” text in Russian.
When he returned, he noticed that the boy was mumbling something he was reading from his phone. “What are you saying? “The rabbi wondered. The boy showed him a prayer that the Christians say.” You told me that when you put Tefillin on, you connect to G-d ” the boy said to the rabbi,” Dad sometimes takes me to church and that’s what we say there.” The surprised rabbi read Shma with the boy. “The boy’s innocence made big noise in the sky,” said RCE Director General Rabbi Arie Goldberg, who accompanied the group throughout the entire journey.
The children’s lack of Judaism became evident on Monday morning. One of the children from Spain, approached the Rabbi as they prayed and asked in wonder what were the ropes the rabbis had tied around their hands and heads. It was an opportunity to talk to the boys about tefillin and put them on.
On Monday evening, the participants witnessed the fire that burned in the hearts of the boys. One of them burst into tears near the tomb site of Maimonides. The boy was crying continuously for many minutes. Dozens of children stood around him looking awkward, trying in a variety of languages - Russian, German and Spanish – to understand why he was crying. But the child did not stop. Between bursts of tears, he explained, in fragmented words, in German, to some of the children around him. When they understood, they approached some adults who were standing there and explained to them what the outburst was about. They pulled out cell phones and dialed. Someone brought a sheet of paper. The boy who had been crying stopped at once and had a conversation on the phone. A huge smile covered his face. A few more minutes passed and it all worked out.
On the way back to the hotel, he explained that before leaving his parents’ house in Germany to Israel, they told him that in Tiberias lies one of the greatest and most important leaders in Judaism in the last 1000 years. They gave him a page with the names of some members of the family and asked him to pray there. The page stayed at the hotel and the boy who was scared because he forgot the names and could not pray for them, and did not know what to do. When the rabbi who accompanied him contacted his parents and they dictated the names to him again – we relaxed.
The highlight of the trip took place Thursday Feb. 27th. The morning started out at the Kotel with an unforgettable Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony; every boy received his own set of tefillin.
They were very excited to go up to the Kotel where their congregation rabbis, who accompanied them along the journey, assisted them in laying the tefillin. All the sets of Tefillin were donated by entrepreneur Rami Levy. The girls prayed at the Kotel with the help of their Rebbetzins and counselors.
In the evening, a gala Bar/Bat mitzvah party was held in the Western Wall tunnels, which was professionally conducted by “Tzva’im producers”.
During the event, the boys and girls participated in a historical quiz on Jewish history and demonstrated impressive knowledge. The participants studied Jewish history during the preceding months of the trip as part of their preparation. Four participants who exceeded the rest, won silver goblets.
The occasion was accompanied by Chasidic singer Simcha Friedman and with Chasidic keyboard player Leibella Lipsker. A series of rabbis and public figures delivered their messages: Chief Rabbi Yosef, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Places, Mr. Moshe Leon Mayor of Jerusalem, Rabbi Jeremiah Cohen, Council member of the “Rabbinical Center of Europe”. Rabbi Eliyahu Bar Shalom Chief Rabbi of Bat Yam, Mr. Avraham Duvdavni Chairman of the Zionist Organization, Mr. Yaakov Chaguel Vice Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Head of the Department for Activities in Israel and Countering Anti-Semitism, Mr. Mordechai Benita Director General of the Jerusalem Heritage Ministry, The Generous entrepreneur Mr. Rami Levi who donated the prayer shawls and tefillin and Mr. Mordechai Sonnenfeld who financed part of the trip. Additional assistance was provided by The Ministry of Social Equality, The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, The Danieli Foundation,Tthe Zionist Histadrut and the Meromim Foundation, directed by Rabbi Ben-Zion Lipsker.