Dressed in their finest clothing and surrounded by family and close friends, 36 orphaned girls celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs together in an emotional and festive event hosted by Colel Chabad charity organization.
“Celebrating important milestones without the head of the family is very difficult and we do all we can to help the girls and their families forget their pain and bereavement on this special day,” Rabbi Yitzchak Marton, Director of Programming and Educational Projects for Colel Chabad told Breaking Israel News. “We invest in these girls and their families over many years to help make their lives a success. Especially at momentous occasions, we go all out to help orphans feel loved and special.”
This year Colel Chabad – Israel’s social welfare organization which has supported people in the Land since 1788 – marks its seventh annual Bat Mitzvah celebration. The festivities took place in the newly renovated Gutnick Hall in Jerusalem with Colel Chabad handling all the arrangements and costs.
“Families without a mother or father often do not have the funds, emotional strength, or even desire to celebrate their joyous occasions”, explained Rabbi Marton. “Our Colel Chabad team spends time encouraging people to participate in this very special day. Once the families and friends arrive, they are grateful for the wonderful, happy, caring, and compassionate atmosphere we provide.”
Participants come from all walks of society and varying levels of religious observance. Since everyone in the room has experienced loss, they understand each other’s mixed emotions without having to explain.
In Judaism, a girl achieves the status of an adult at the age of 12. She is then obligated to fulfill her Biblical duties and show responsibility to the Nation of Israel and contribute positively to the world.
Colel Chabad made a significant investment in this festive day ensuring that every detail sends the message that orphans are loved and cared for. Before the event, families are given shopping vouchers toward a new outfit to have each bat mitzvah girl feel special for this occasion.
The hall was beautifully decorated in pink and filled with flowers, gifts, and lavish food. Everyone was encouraged to dance, laugh, dine, and enjoy their daughter’s new stage in life.
The day started with the group baking Sabbath challah (bread) and making the special prayer on this food while wearing personalized aprons. Each girl took home her own loaves for her family to enjoy on the Sabbath.
Baking challah is a unique women’s Biblical commandment. Encouraging the girls to feel proud of their Jewish heritage – especially at this time in their lives – is part of Colel Chabad’s educational mission.
Upon arrival to the hall, each Bat Mitzvah girl received a beautiful Sabbath crystal candle stick, a personalized prayer book, and a lovely piece of jewelry. Each of the families were gifted with a private photography session and will receive a special photo album highlighting the day’s events.
Emotions ran high as the inspirational speaker Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi presented a message of strength and hope to the girls and their mothers. Following her talk, Rebbetzin Mizrachi devoted a long time to personally speak with each parent and orphan where they shared stories, hugs, tears, and love.
“We spend a lot of time encouraging the girls in their special and important role in the Jewish nation,” shared Rabbi Marton. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery in ancient Egypt through the righteous women and the final redemption will also happen in the merit of righteous women. We feel that this is a message of hope for these young women and want them to feel their importance and their responsibility to their families and others.”
Between the beauty and bittersweet joy, the take-home message was that each girl has the capabilities and talents to strengthen her home, even with a missing father or mother. Each one is able to contribute to her family and friends, helping increase in happiness and strength. These young ladies have the full potential and capabilities to succeed in their personal lives and help others.
“All of these preparations – from the beautiful design of the room to the smiles on everyone’s faces. The personal attention that we each received as family and not just guests – nothing was left out,” said one of the mothers. “While the mothers and daughters were dancing, I had to move to the side to cry. I thought about my husband, the father of my beautiful daughter, looking down on us from heaven, and I felt alone. But now, looking upon all these other mothers, I see the power we all have together. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it gives me strength.”
Each attending family is a story unto itself. In July 2016, one of the families had their well-known father of ten and a rabbi shot to death by terrorists while driving. The mother was severely wounded and lost an eye and two other children were also wounded in the attack. Colel Chabad has been helping and supporting them since.
“When the mother and children began attending Colel Chabad events, she was in very bad condition”, said Rabbi Marton. “It brought tears to our eyes, as well as so much pleasure, to see her, her daughter, extended family and friends dancing and enjoying themselves at this celebration. This event provides a tremendous positive effect on the entire family.”
At the end of this moving day, everyone went to pray at Biblical Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Tears flowed as mothers and daughters embraced the qualities of Mother Rachel, a person who cries and mourns for her children to return to their home.
“Thus said Hashem: A cry is heard in Rama— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children.” (Jeremiah 31:14)
“Many of these families became acquainted with each other at Colel Chabad’s Hanukkah Retreat for orphans and widows,” noted Rabbi Marton. “It’s such an important thing for families with similar challenges to be in touch and around others who understand what they are going through. Then, when they come to this event, they don’t feel like a charity case but rather a beloved member of the Jewish people.”
Colel Chabad does all it can for Israel’s orphans, including providing year-round tutors and mentors, enrichment programs, and financial and emotional support. The Bat Mitzvah celebration is one of the year’s highlights.
The organization also helps needy people throughout the year with a wide variety of programs and services including food and financial help, educational support and guidance, enrichment activities, help for orphans, daycare for children of single mothers, medical care, and extra financial help before holidays.