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UJIA celebrated the tenth year of its joint Ethiopian and British Bar Bat Mitzvah programme this summer with its largest celebration to date, in Jerusalem.
Forty newly-arrived Ethiopian immigrant children (twenty boys and twenty girls) from the Jewish Agency "Tzahal" Absorption Centre in Tzfat celebrated their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs together with some of their British Bar and Bat Mitzvah "Twins".
The core funding for the programme was raised through the joint efforts of a group of UJIA donors led by Larry and Michelle Gould from Manchester and Karen and Peter Goodkind from London, together with Tzedakah initiatives by FZY (the Federation of Zionist Youth).
Sixteen families came from the UK to celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of their children, including 4 from Manchester, 4 from Scotland 8 from London and for the first time an Australian Bar Mitzvah boy, Max Shand. (Full details given in Notes to Editors below).
The ceremony, which took place at The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, was followed by a festive banquet for family and friends from Israel and the UK at the Great Synagogue. The communal Bar and Bat Mitzvah was conducted in Hebrew, Amharic and English and the children were blessed by Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger.
Rabbi Metzger addressed the congregation and said: "It is in special days that you are celebrating. In these days we think of the baseless hatred that caused the destruction of the temple. It is acts like these that will bring about the third temple. Brotherly love is the living bridge that is created between the twins and their families, your hearts are now connected, and the distance between you countries has grown smaller. You will now come and visit Israel not only for its history but also to see your new friends. Your support of our citizens gives us strength therefore I bless you that G-d gives you strength with all that you do. Amen"
Holly Pollack, 12, London, said ""Loving your neighbour" includes the mitzvah of chesed within it. Chesed means doing acts of loving kindness. Being kind is so important because every person without exception needs the help of his fellow man at one time or another. In fact the survival of humanity is dependent on chesed"
Chloe Grabiner, 12, Glasgow, "We have been given the opportunity to perform a tremendous act of chesed in sharing our joy of becoming Bat Mitzvah with our Ethiopian twins. It is a wonderful mitzvah for us to give but through this act of kindness we have also received, and it is much more than we have given!!"
The ceremony is the culmination of a four-month programme, during which the children preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs learn about their Jewish heritage and are prepared, practically and spiritually, for Jewish adulthood. The 12 and 13-year-olds have been twinned with British counterparts having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, some of whom will join them in Jerusalem.
To fund and run this unique programme, UJIA has created a unique partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) and Livnot U'Lehibanot.
The programme includes four months of weekly classes at the Tzahal Absorption Centre in Tzfat, which focus on Jewish identity, the connection to the land of Israel and the transition from childhood to adulthood. The classes are supplemented by mentoring, a volunteering scheme, local trips and a structured Shabbat programme. The children also study at Livnot U'Lehibanot in Tzfat which prepares them for the practical aspects of Jewish life.
One of the most exciting elements of the Ethiopian Bar/Bat Mitzvah programme is the twinning of Ethiopian Immigrants (Olim) with their counterparts abroad. Bar and Bat Mitzvah twins are encouraged to correspond with each other via emails (translated by UJIA) and have formed real friendships. The British Bar and Bat Mitzvah children have learnt about the Ethiopian community's history, culture and challenges and a number have visited Israel and met their twins. Remarkably this year the project has reached a record number of seventeen children twinned with Ethiopian children.
Director of Jewish Agency Absorption Centre, Yonatan Freedman, said: "I am proud to be a part of this project; this year has by far been the best due to the number of twinning families. Hopefully next year the project will continue to grow. The long educational process the Ethiopian children go through is one aspect of the programme. At the same time, creating the connection between children the same age, about to go through the same right of passage, is extremely important to the children's understanding of their being part of something larger - Am Israel"
In the few days prior to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremony, the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) groups, who are now in Israel from the UK for their one-month Israel summer tour, joined the Bar and Bat Mitzvah children in their festive preparations. FZY has put this programme at the centre of its charity (tzedaka) initiative, mobilising its membership to raise money for this unique Bar/Bat Mitzvah project in partnership with UJIA.
UJIA is providing each Ethiopian child with a full set of smart clothes, talitot and tefillin for the boys and candlesticks and pendants with a Star of David (Magen David) for the girls. The service and banquet was followed by a 'Salute' of solidarity by FZY tour groups.
Michael Freeman, FZY Director in Israel said: "Today is so much more then a project; it is a chance for us to live out our ideology and to demonstrate that we are truly a part of Am Yisrael. In this room there are people of all ages and from many different countries and yet we are all united by our love of Israel, connection to Judaism and commitment to providing a better future for the people and State of Israel".
Douglas Krikler, UJIA Chief Executive said: "UJIA is proud that this Bar Mitzvah programme for Ethiopian Israelis continues to flourish, building on ten years' successful experience. This year, 17 of the Bnei Mitzvah will celebrate this important rite of passage with a twin from the British Jewish community. Building links of this kind between Israel and Britain is at the heart of UJIA's work in enriching Jewish life and creating a living bridge between Britain and Israel."
The Ethiopian Bar and Bat Mitzvah is one of several strategic educational and welfare programmes UJIA supports to aid the integration of Ethiopian immigrants into Israeli society and to encourage Jewish life.