In a particularly moving ceremony, nine Holocaust survivors celebrated having reached adulthood this week, marking the bar and bat mitzvahs that they missed during their youths when they were in Nazi concentration camps.
Jews traditionally celebrate bar mitzvahs at age 13 (girls celebrate bat mitzvah at age 12). The six men and three women were not able to celebrate at that age, but this week's ceremony proved it is never too late. On Thursday, at the Heichal Hashabbat (Shabbat Temple) spiritual center in Ashkelon, the nine survivors celebrated together with 12- and 13-year-olds from the city's Henri Ronson school.
While they read from the Torah — as is traditional during bar mitzvah ceremonies — one of the survivors said, "To be here in the synagogue and to wear tefillin [phylacteries] with all the kids around — that is our true victory."
Another survivor also voiced his excitement, saying, "When I was at that age, my mother would send me out into the street to see what the Gestapo were planning. Bless us that we achieved our own state here. I tell today's youth to appreciate every step, every moment, every drop of our nation."
The event was organized by the Henri Ronson teaching staff.
Rabbi Yaakov Avitan, who heads the spiritual center, said, "The special bond between the students and the survivors brought the children closer to their heritage and taught them about the suffering that the Jewish people endured, and their resurrection."
"The ceremony was special, and very moving," one man who attended the ceremony said. "I can't describe how we felt when the Holocaust survivors entered the synagogue and all around the children were singing 'Am Israel Chai' [the nation of Israel lives] to them. To see them wear tefillin for the first time in their lives was so touching — to see the straps wound around an arm that bears that cursed number. I didn't even feel this moved at my own bar mitzvah."