Celebrating Bnei Mitzvah at Jewish Care

16 Aug 2017

It has been an emotional day for Jewish Care clients Sadie, Celia and Jean – at the ages of 84, 93 and 86 they are celebrating their Bat Mitzvahs, together with 26 JFS Year 7 students. Collectively they participated in a Jewish Care and JFS Bnei Mitzvah programme, which has seen the students spending time with the three ladies and other members of the Jewish Care Centre they attend.

The programme, which also gives pupils the chance to learn more about Jewish Care and volunteering, is just one of several opportunities we create for Bar and Bat Mitzvah students as they make their Jewish journey into adulthood. Not only does this inspire them to think about their responsibility to the community, it is also a wonderful way to bring the generations together.

Now approaching its third year, the programme involves fortnightly sessions bringing the students and day centre members together to talk about their lives, looking at photos and comparing the experience of 12 and 13-year-olds then and now.

This year the children created collages and poems for the members and helped them learn or improve their Hebrew reading, culminating in the Bat Mitzvah ceremony in The Wohl Synagogue at JFS – in front of their families and Jewish Care. and JFS president Lord Levy.

At the ceremony Jean Islin, 86, read aloud the poem one of the students had written for her.

“It was very emotional. I didn’t expect it,’ says Jean. “We loved the children, they worked so hard with us making us collages and poems. We learned from them and they learned from us and the ceremony was truly tremendous.”

Sadie Levy, 84, adds: “The way the children were teaching us the Shema was amazing. It was very good learning from the children the way they learn things. A girl being Bat Mitzvah is something I never thought I’d be, but this was an honour and that’s how I feel, that I’ve been honoured.”

JFS student Tamar Silas, who spoke at the ceremony, says: “On one of my first trips to the community centre I met these three amazing women, including Celia. I loved hearing her tell us all about her siblings and her Friday night dinners.

“It made me realise how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to go to a Jewish school and also that I have grown up in a time and place where I can be Jewish. I will remember this experience for the rest of my life.”

As well as the get-togethers with the community centre members, the students had lunch club sessions where they heard from Jewish Care’s chief executive Simon Morris, vice chair Debbie Fox and volunteer Simon Davies, who gave an inspirational talk about disability. JFS’s social action coordinator Tami Addlestone, who co-organises the programme, explains: “It really gives the students an understanding of the importance of having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, when our ancestry shows us that so many times in history Jews have not been able to celebrate their Jewish identity.

“It also gives them a connection to their Jewish history and a sense of community, inspiring them to think about their role in making the world a better place.”

In addition to the programme pupils have chosen different ways to fundraise for Jewish Care.

Some created Bake Day events and a number went on to join pupils from Yavneh College and JCoSS in Jewish Care’s recent 10K Bnei Mitzvah Walk.

The walk, now in its second year, is much more than a sponsored event. The Year 7 and 8 pupils set off from Jewish Care’s Maurice and Vivienne Wohl campus in Golders Green and finish at the Betty and Asher Loftus Centre in Friern Barnet, where they have tea with clients. They also stop en route for refreshments with residents at Hendon home Clore Manor. In this way, the children can meet some Jewish Care clients and get an understanding of the difference their fundraising is make collectively.

Jacob Hirshler, 12, a JCoSS pupil, wanted to do the walk because his grandfather Lou Peters is a resident at Jewish Care’s Rosetrees.

He says: “I told my grandpa I was doing it and I think he understood. I really enjoyed it because there were other students from my year at school and we all worked together to figure out which way we were walking. We stopped for a drink and then talked to some of the residents, who were great and really encouraging. They told us it was wonderful that we are doing this.”

As well as the organised Jewish Care Bnei Mitzvah activities, many bar and bat mitzvah celebrants find individual ways to support Jewish Care, from sponsored silences to fundraising fashion shows to using their talents volunteering.

Others choose to donate a portion of their present money or take part in our Simcha Giving programme, where they ask guests to give money to Jewish Care instead of a present.

On occasion, if one of our clients has a family simcha they are unable to get to, we have Bar and Bat Mitzvah children who bring their celebrations to us. As a communal organisation, we

are delighted to host them in the homes or community centres. Cousins Benji and Jade Albert recently celebrated their Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah with their great grandma

Esther, at Jewish Care’s Alexandra Home, where she is a resident. Keen to lein to her, Benji, Jade, and their families arranged a second reading and celebration with Esther in the home, along with their grandmother and

long-standing Jewish Care volunteer Marilyn, in front of residents, staff and other volunteers. Marilyn says: “We were so proud of both of them and it was special for all the residents to have a party as I feel like they are a big family.”

Benji, who originally celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Israel, says: ‘We have an amazing a picture of four generations of my family altogether celebrating my Bar Mitzvah.’

Speaking passionately about the Bnei Mitzvah programmes, The Lord Levy, President of Jewish Care and JFS commented; “Its programmes and activities such as these that set Jewish Care apart from any other care provider. These are unique opportunities that are of huge benefit to both the young people and Jewish Care clients. I would encourage everyone with children or grandchildren to suggest they get involved in a Jewish Care Bnei Mitzvah activity. It’s a rewarding way for them to show their personal commitment to the Jewish community at this important time in their lives”.

To find out more about how you, your children or grandchildren can get involved, email events@jcare.org or call 020 8922 2837.