Bar Mitzvah in a Bomb Shelter


I VERY rarely "cross-post" something, which is to say simply post to my blog or send to my email list something I pick up from somewhere else.  I figure everyone gets enough email traffic themselves. 

I’m making an exception for the following, which was forwarded to me by Rabbi Mauricio Balter, who is the rabbi for the Conservative congregation in Kiryat Bialik, located between Haifa and Acre.  It really captures what life must be like for our  brethren in Israel.

The Conservative (Masorti) movement has opened an Emergency Relief Fund to help people whose lives have been disrupted by the war with Lebanon.  Click here to make a contribution.

Reb Barry

Kiryat Bialik (25 kilometers south of the Lebanese border)
On the 11th day of hostilities 22.7.2006

This week the Managing Committee of the Krayot Conservative Synagogue faced  a dilemma. How do we organize our Shabbat Services and how do we accommodate the family making their Bar-Mitzvah celebration under the present difficult circumstances — frequent alarms and random explosions. ?

After ensuring that the shelter immediately close to the Shul was serviceable, we offered the Bar-Mitzvah family a choice, either hold the service in the shelter or postpone it until after the hostilities. (That Friday afternoon we took hits in the area). The family chose to go ahead as scheduled.

Saturday morning we arrived early to get things ready — to bring the Sefer Torah and the other necessities to the shelter. We were welcomed by air raid sirens.

The Bar Mitzvah family arrived, along with a few congregation members including Haim and Miriam, an elderly Russian couple who walked about a kilometer and a half, all the time exposed to danger. According to their ages, they must have been teenagers during WWII, so this was probably kids stuff for them.

We don’t photograph on Shabbat, but the scenes of this ceremony will remain engraved in my mind forever.

The Bar-Mitzvah family are new immigrants from the Caucasus, a remote and exotic area of the former Soviet Republic. They were in great spirits and the mother, in her ninth month of her pregnancy, appeared quite serene, although she admitted to being very worried.

I davened the Psukeh deZimrah, which I often do, but this time the experience was unusual. I am usually a rationalist and not especially given to mystical speculations, however this time I felt one of those rare moments of elevation. Here, in a bomb shelter of whitewashed concrete walls, no Aron Kodesh, and with a makeshift Bima, I felt something extraordinary. Even though many of those in attendance hardly knew how to read Hebrew let alone pray, this was truly a Kahal Kadosh.

Shai our Chazzan,  took over from me and we continued our prayers until time for the Torah reading. The Bar-Mitzvah boy recited his Maftir and Haphtarah beautifully, every word and note in perfect order. Even though the crowd was  small, and many of our regulars were understandably absent, those present experienced his rendition with hearts filled with emotion.

His grandmother had tears of joy and pride streaming down her face expressing what we all felt inside. Here in the humblest of settings, threatened on the outside, we in solemn determination were keeping that age-old thread of Jewish perseverance alive.

We returned to reality as our Rabbi Mauricio recited the prayer for the State of Israel, for our soldiers, for the casualties and for the return of the captives. Speaking personally, I can’t imagine the absolute terror of being held a prisoner of either Hamas or Hezbollah.)

As we were getting to chant the Adon Olam which marks the end of the service, the air raid siren went off and Raanan called out: “Everyone into the shelter!” which brought out the smiles because we didn’t have far to go. We were already in it!

After the Kiddush we quickly packed up our makeshift Shul and hastened home through the deserted streets.

This in a nutshell was our Parashat Matot-Masaai 5766 (2006).

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “Bar Mitzvah in a Bomb Shelter

  • I am glad the boy had the oppertunity to enjoy his Bar-Mitzvah.

    It is a grand thing to have your prayers heard. I read some where, what you help bring about for others, God helps bring about for you.


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