For those who have lost a parent, life’s joyous milestones can seem like a double-edged sword. There are indeed times to celebrate, yet those times are often coupled with a sense of loss.

For children, particularly boys approaching their bar mitzvah, it’s hard to imagine marking this passage into adulthood without their fathers or mothers—or in some cases, both parents—present to witness the occasion.

Then, of course, there are the financial considerations. For single parents, coming up with the money for a bar mitzvah celebration, even a very modest one, and a pair of tefillin, which are typically give to boys when they turn 13, can cost several hundred to more than $1,000.

In Israel, that’s where Colel Chabad in Jerusalem comes in.

On Monday, April 7, the organization will host a mega bar mitzvah celebration for 113 orphaned boys and their families. The youngsters come from throughout Israel and will gather at the Western Wall (Kotel), where they will receive their own set of tefillin and be called up to recite the blessing on the Torah as it read aloud either by the bar mitzvah boy himself or a Torah reader.

Many of these boys “don’t want to go a synagogue for their bar mitzvah because they don’t have their fathers, and the father is a major figure in the synagogue,” says Rabbi Sholom Duchman, the international director of Colel Chabad. “They want to stay away from [the ceremony]. But having a bar mitzvah with other kids in the same situation gives them the push so that they want to do it.”

A Focus on Children

The bar mitzvah mega-event is held annually a few days before the Hebrew birthday of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—on the 11th day of the month of Nissan. Originally, the group bar mitzvah program was offered to boys whose families had emigrated from the former Soviet Union.

The first event of this kind was held in 1992 to mark the 90th birthday of the Rebbe, but given that there is no longer mass aliyah (immigration) from Russia and its surrounding countries, Colel Chabad identified another group of boys in need—those who have lost a parent.

The youngsters come from throughout Israel and will gather at the Western Wall (Kotel), where they will be called up to the Torah.
The youngsters come from throughout Israel and will gather at the Western Wall (Kotel), where they will be called up to the Torah.

This year marks the sixth group bar mitzvah that will be co-sponsored by the Centro Judaico, the BAIT Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2008, Rabbi Yitzchak Michaan, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and director of Centro Judaico, held a Bar Mitzvah for one of his sons in the Jewish Quarter and invited 10 orphans of bar mitzvah age to celebrate with them. Afterwards, Michaan approached Duchman requesting that they further develop and implement this idea as an annual event for orphans from throughout Israel.

After the ceremony at the Kotel, which is open to the public, the boys and their families (each boy can invite 10 guests) will travel to Binyanei Hauma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center, for a private banquet.

There, they will be joined by Israel’s chief rabbis—Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef—as well as local politicians from across the spectrum, including Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein; Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen; and Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan. The boys and their families will have their photos taken, enjoy a festive dinner with music and entertainment, and receive a special bar mitzvah gift (last year, it was an MP3 player).

The celebration is just one of the programs that Colel Chabad runs for orphans under its Chesed Menachem Mendel program, according to Rabbi Menachem Traxler, the agency’s director of volunteering.

“We currently have more than 800 children in the program,” he says. “We focus on helping to get them through high school. We have tutoring programs, holiday retreats and more.”

Learn more about the Bar Mitzvah ceremony and the Chesed Menachem Mendel project at: