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entries tagged with: Rabbi Uzi Rivlin


Young Israeli marks bar mitzvah with a little help from a scholarship fund

Rabbi Uzi Rivlin, left, of the Keren Milgot scholarship fund with Avi-El, a disadvantaged Israeli teen who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Teaneck Jewish Center. Laves Photography

When a boy named Avi-El celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Jewish Center of Teaneck Aug. 22, no beaming parents, grandparents, or siblings were there. Avi-El, who lives within a therapeutic family unit at an Israeli kibbutz, could not share his special moment with his biological relatives.

Instead, he was surrounded by well-wishers at the center’s Hallel V’Zimrah Orthodox minyan — and his American sponsors, Rabbis Uzi Rivlin and Moshe Yasgur of the Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael).

For several summers, the rabbis have flown over a handful of the hundreds of youngsters on their rolls to stay with American host families and attend a session of Camp Moshava, an Orthodox Zionist camp in Pennsylvania.

“The decision to bring a specific child to the United States is weighed very carefully based on what each child needs and will benefit from,” said Yasgur. “Some need to get out of their current situations for a while, and some just need to know there’s another world out there.”

The beneficiary children are recommended to the all-volunteer organization by municipal social-services authorities throughout Israel. Some live in poor development towns and simply lack the resources for basic items such as food, clothing, mattresses, and school supplies. Others, like Avi-El, come from troubled homes or have been orphaned due to illness or terror attacks.

“Their needs are so great you cannot imagine,” said Rivlin.

Avi-El was one of two girls and five boys brought over this summer. Five were sent to Moshava. The remaining two boys, who have behavioral issues related to their abusive family backgrounds, stayed in Teaneck for four weeks at what the rabbi jokingly calls “Camp Rivlin” — the home he shares with his wife, Jenny. One returned to Israel after the first camp session.

The remaining children were in town to participate in Avi-El’s special morning at the Jewish Center and received gifts from the congregation. Members also provided funds for a festive kiddush afterward. Though the scholarship fund has previously arranged b’nai mitzvah at Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron, Rivlin and Yasgur were eager “to extend our relationship to other communities and synagogues.”

The following week, the rabbis accompanied the children to a Shabbaton at Fair Lawn’s Cong. Ahavat Achim. “Rabbi [Uri] Goldstein told the kids that their contribution to their community was so important, because they gave their host families a taste of Israel,” said Rivlin. “Families were fighting over who would get to host the kids.”

Rabbi Lawrence Zierler of the Jewish Center of Teaneck invited all six children to his home for Shabbat lunch. He also translated Avi-El’s bar mitzvah speech into English for worshippers in both the Orthodox and traditional minyan groups following services.

“Avi-El spoke about justice, about doing the right thing,” said Yasgur. “Rabbi Zierler echoed his words, saying that it was absolutely the right thing to embrace these children and encourage and strengthen them.”

Rivlin estimates that the fund spends more than $100,000 annually to meet the pressing needs of more than 500 4- to 18-year-olds. In addition, several families at Temple Beth Abraham — a Reform congregation in Tarrytown, N.Y., where Rivlin teaches in the religious school — take on the support of specific children and often host them during the summer.

Last spring, two fund-supported teens from Sderot and Netivot attended Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, at Rivlin’s initiative. “Both were in severe crisis situations,” said Rivlin, who hosted them for the semester. He hopes to arrange a similar educational “exchange” next year in cooperation with a local yeshiva high school.

“Our long-term vision is to build the next generation in Israel and not lose these kids,” said Yasgur. “We want to let them know there are Jews all over the world and there are opportunities to expand their horizons. They can bring that back to Israel and start to build a better life for themselves.”

Daniel, an academically gifted orphan who celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth Aaron in 2006, has returned each summer since, staying with his Westchester benefactors. He will enter Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv this fall, studying accounting and economics and taking part in the school’s advanced Judaic studies program.

“I promised his grandfather, just two weeks before he died, that I would make sure Daniel would continue his education in Israel and learn Torah,” said Rivlin.

Tax-deductible contributions — full educational scholarships are $140, tuition scholarships are $60, textbooks and supplies are $50, and school shoes are $25 — 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.


Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

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.)

Dina and Danielle stood on chairs looking into the men’s area as Yarin put on the tefillin that the third triplet, Tamir, had requested when he was only 11. He had been too young to start wrapping the ritual leather straps around his arm and head during prayer, but not too young to understand that cancer would kill him before his bar mitzvah.

Yarin is flanked by Rabbi Yehuda Borer and Chaim Shalom. Abigail Klein Leichman

As Tamir’s close-knit Moroccan family dealt with the child’s progressive illness, an Israeli educator in Teaneck called Tamir regularly to pray with him. Rabbi Uzi Rivlin sent the tefillin that Tamir wanted, and he saw to the family’s needs through his Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael).

Last September, Rivlin told The Jewish Standard that the fund was expending about $100,000 per year to provide food, clothing, school supplies, and furnishings to some 500 Israeli 5- to 18-year-olds in difficult straits. The clientele now number closer to 1,000.

Keren Milgot arranged the celebration at the Wall this day, as Yarin — in keeping with tradition — donned tefillin for the first time, a month before his birthday. It was also the first time for Ohr, a 12-year-old Ethiopian boy aided by the fund. Ohr’s widowed mother and grandmother watched with broad smiles from the women’s section.

Rivlin’s wife, Jenny, was there as well. A teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, she told Danielle that a photograph of Tamir hangs in her Teaneck home. The Rivlins forge a bond with many Keren Milgot kids; one teen boarded with them this year while attending the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck.

“Sometimes the connection is so close,” said Uzi Rivlin. “When Tamir passed away two years ago, I was not even able to work. It was like my own son had died.”

Exactly three years ago, Rivlin had arranged transportation for Tamir and his family to come to the Wall to pray. A kabbalist had added another name to Tamir’s. “We hoped the gates of heaven would open,” said Rivlin.

That moving scene was not far from Dina’s mind as she watched her surviving 12-year-old mark this milestone. Her husband died just one year after Tamir, apparently of a broken heart. In his stead next to Yarin were Chaim Shalom, chairman of Rivlin’s fund in Israel, and Rabbi Yehuda Borer, an active participant in the project. Dina strongly felt that Tamir was at Yarin’s side.

“I plainly see him,” she said with a mixture of pride and grief. “He is always standing next to us. I was privileged to be his mother, and I am privileged to bring up these children,” she said, nodding at Danielle and her siblings in attendance. “They keep me strong.”

Later this month, Danielle, Yarin, and Ohr will fly to America accompanied by two older beneficiaries of the fund. They’ll spend some time with the Rivlins and attend a session of Camp Moshava in Pennsylvania. On Aug. 13, Rivlin will take them to Cong. Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn for Yarin’s bar mitzvah Shabbat. They’ll return for Ohr’s bar mitzvah just before going home.

“Ohr’s bar mitzvah should be in September,” Rivlin explained, “but his mother is not able to do it for him. She works night and day [at an Eilat hotel] to support her family. So we’ll make his bar mitzvah, a little early, in Fair Lawn. He had no Jewish background, so we arranged with a [volunteer] rabbi to educate him.”

Jack Bickel, the synagogue member coordinating both events, is expecting an emotional experience as Yarin recites Kaddish for the first time for his brother and father. “Then, two weeks after that, we’ll have the kids back and Ohr will discuss what it was like for his family to come from Ethiopia to Israel.”

Ahavat Achim has been hosting Keren Milgot children for three summers. “People here view it as a privilege,” said Bickel. “We try to find Hebrew-speakers to host them.” The shul will sponsor a kiddush and pay for activities while the children are with the Rivlins.

During the Jerusalem service, Ohr’s older brothers and Yarin’s older brother — all in Israel Defense Forces uniforms — were called to chant blessings over the Torah scroll. Both families afterward went to meet Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger and enjoyed a picnic in Sacher Park.

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