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Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

How the fund — and the relationships — grew

 
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The Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot) began about a dozen years ago when Rabbi Uzi Rivlin read in an Israeli newspaper about a family in the southern development town of Kiryat Gat that was so poor they had only one pacifier for two babies.

“Uzi contacted the reporter, who got him in touch with Chaim Shalom, then the head of the city’s welfare department,” related his wife, Jenny. “Uzi called him and said we would like to help. That particular family got [assistance] as a result of the article, but Uzi said perhaps there were others in crisis. Chaim gave us a few names, and that summer Uzi came to Israel and went with Chaim to see them.”

Keren Milgot now helps children referred by social services all over Israel. Local synagogues that regularly contribute to the program include Cong. Beth Aaron of Teaneck, Cong. Ahavat Achim of Fair Lawn, and The Jewish Center of Teaneck. For several summers, Rivlin has arranged bar mitzvahs at these shuls or at Camp Moshava for Israeli children who are orphaned or whose parents are too overwhelmed, sick, or destitute to sponsor such an event.

At Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, N.Y., where the Rivlins teach fifth-graders every Sunday, the rabbi set up a pen-pal program between the students and scholarship recipients their age.

“He translates the letters from English to Hebrew and I translate the letters from Hebrew to English. It takes us hours,” said Jenny Rivlin. “A few years ago, one of the kids came to Uzi and said, ‘I’ve been writing to this boy in Israel the whole year. I want to invite him here.’ Uzi was so shocked he did not know what to say.” But the idea soon mushroomed among the congregants.

The Westchester families have become an integral part of the Keren Milgot summer experience. Several foot the entire cost of the children’s trip, welcome them in their homes, and even outfit them for camp. As many of the visitors keep kosher, host families from this Reform congregation also buy food especially for their needs.

After camp, Danielle and Yarin will visit with the family of their pen-pals — twin girls who, coincidentally, also experienced the death of their father not long ago.

“The mother is ready to take Danielle and Yarin shopping for whatever they need,” said Rivlin. “We plan to bring the two girls to Fair Lawn for Yarin’s bar mitzvah on Aug. 14, although Ahavat Achim is an Orthodox synagogue. When you talk about tragedy, it doesn’t matter if you are Reform or Orthodox. They are just Jewish children.”

Tax-deductible contributions may be made payable to Cong. Beth Aaron, with “Scholarship Fund” in the memo line and mailed to P.O. Box 1155, Teaneck, NJ 07666.

Abigal Klein Leichman

 

More on: Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

 
 
 

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Rabbi Yehuda Borer assists Ohr with the blessings.

A white dove alighted in a crevice of the Western Wall on a hot Monday morning in July. Families from Israel and abroad were gathering for sons’ bar mitzvah ceremonies.

A guest pointed out the bird to the women around her. “A dove of peace! It is a good sign.”

Dina certainly needed a good sign. A mother of six, Dina was at Jerusalem’s holiest spot with her son Yarin and daughter Danielle, who will turn 13 in August. They are not twins, but two of triplets. (Last names have been omitted to protect the families’ privacy.)

 
 
 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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