Intergenerational Bnei Mitzvah programme dedicated to William Kacynski

20 Jun 2019

The 10 participants of Jewish Care’s 4th programme for young people who will be celebrating their Bar and Bat Mitzvah, decided to mark their graduation from the programme on Wednesday 12 June by dedicating their ceremony to the memory of William Kacyznski, who they met during the early sessions of the five month programme. Jewish Care’s Bnei Mitzvah programme aims to inspire the participants to think about their responsibility in the community to coincide with the Jewish coming of age ceremony marking the time when they become officially responsible for their own religious life.

William was a tenant at Jewish Care’s Selig Court in Golders Green. He was an author and Holocaust survivor. He was born on 23 June 1936. His family fled Berlin after Kristallnacht and he came to England in 1939 as a refugee from Nazi Germany. His father, who won the Iron Cross during the First World War, spent time in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On arrival to the UK, William was interned, along with his mother and brother, for 10 months in Rushen Camp on the Isle of Man. His father had been in the hat trade and William followed him in the profession, helping to establish the largest hat factory in Europe.

Rachel Miller, Jewish Care’s Youth Volunteer Development Officer, said, “The group met William at a session with Selig Court tenants and the tenants shared their memories of their own Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. William invited them all to his second Bar Mitzvah which was due to take place in June, but he sadly passed away earlier this year in March. The group were so moved by meeting him and wanted to dedicate their ceremony to his memory and invite his family to share the graduation ceremony with them.”

Orielle Brodie, 11, who is a pupil at Hasmonean Girls School, met William at Selig Court whilst taking part in the programme, said, “William was really fun, engaging and entertaining to talk to, there was a lot to talk to him about and I really connected with him when I met him. It was so interesting to hear about his book and his experiences during the Holocaust. I was really looking forward to celebrating his second Barmitzvah, which he was excited at talking about, with him. I was sad that he wasn’t able to celebrate it. I think it’s really nice and special to dedicate our Bnei Mitzvah programme graduation ceremony to him."

Speaking at the ceremony, Tania Kaczynski ,William’s daughter said, “The tradition is that, any years after 70 years old, are in fact a gift from G-d, an addition to the normal 3 score years and ten, which makes an 83 year old, 13 years old again and ready for a second bar mitzvah.

“This old notion of second chances are in keeping with my father. His short time at Selig Court gave him a new lease of life, a second chance. He became an enthusiastic teenager again.

“He had always been full of life, ready to meet new challenges and keen to meet new people and exchange stories. After the loss of my dear mother his sadness and grief struck him profoundly. Selig Court and the people he met there gave him his spirit and his life force back.

“He was a natural feminist and encouraged me and my sisters to pursue our dreams without barriers or limitations. So, the meeting between these young women and my old father, was a meeting of Bnei Mitzvot but also the ideas that he held dear. He often spoke of how much he was looking forward to attending this delightful ceremony.

“In contrast to this event, he was Barmitzvahed at his parent’s home in Temple Fortune. They and my father had escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and were then living in Temple Fortune. His barmitzvah was a low key event, He received a pen and a pearl tie pin which is now with our uncle, Eddie, William’s brother who is here with us today, as a gift from his parents. Big lavish parties were not common in those days.

“In his absence, that is so acute every day, I would like to say a big Mazel Tov from William and from myself and all the Kaczynski family to the young women here today. He is missed by many friends old and new and I hope that he can see us now from up above.”

Jewish Care’s Director of Fundraising and Customer Engagement, Adam Overlander Kaye added, “In dedicating their ceremony to William’s memory, the group who have come through this programme have shown that they recognise the value of learning from the wisdom of older members of our community

“Young people bring so much to our community especially when they have the opportunity to engage with older people. We look forward to welcoming many more Bnei mitzvah participants to volunteer in the future.”

Each session of the five month programme takes place in one of the organisation’s 11 care homes, where the participants have learnt about different aspects of their work and volunteered in creative intergenerational sessions with residents.

For more information about Jewish Care’s Bnei Mitzvah programme, please contact Rachel Miller on 020 8 922 2757 or