It was all smiles and excitement as 113 boys from across Israel made their way to the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem on Monday to celebrate a milestone—their 13th birthday and their bar mitzvah.

One by one, each of the boys was called up to the Torah, where they recited a blessing over the scroll as it was read aloud either by the bar mitzvah boys or a Torah reader, thus signifying their passage into adulthood in the Jewish tradition.

The young men shared more than just this special rite. Each of the boys had lost a parent—in some cases, both parents—and might not have had a bar mitzvah ceremony if not for this mega celebration put on by Colel Chabad in Jerusalem, and co-sponsored for the sixth year in a row by the Centro Judaico, the BAIT Center in São Paulo, Brazil.

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,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, international director of Colel Chabad, before the event. “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.”

Following the ceremony at the Kotel, each boy was given a set of tefillin, and a few of them went to the Prime Minister’s Office to meet the country’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Family and friends joined for photo shoots to mark the day. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
Family and friends joined for photo shoots to mark the day. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

According to Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Colel Chabad’s director of volunteering, the prime minister told the boys that they are the “pride of the Jewish people, and that the entire country is celebrating with them.”

The day wrapped up with a huge banquet at Binyanei HaUma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center. There, the boys posed for formal pictures along with their relatives and friends, and enjoyed a catered meal and entertainment.

Continuing a Tradition

Colel Chabad began offering group bar mitzvah programs back in 1992 to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the 11th of Nissan. Back then, the group bar mitzvah celebration was for children whose families had recently emigrated from the former Soviet Union.

But as that aliyah has waned, Colel Chabad identified the benefit to offering a group bar mitzvah to boys who have lost a parent. It is just one of the events that the Colel runs for orphans under its Chesed Menachem Mendel program.

The day wrapped up with a huge banquet at Binyanei Hauma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
The day wrapped up with a huge banquet at Binyanei Hauma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center. (Photo: Colel Chabad)

Among the politicians who attended the first mega bar mitzvah ceremony in 1992—when 1,000 boys were called to the Torah—was the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir. This year, however, it was his son, Knesset member Yair Shamir, who came to mark this auspicious occasion, noting that he was continuing the tradition started by his father.

Likewise, those 113 boys who received an aliyah and were called up to the Torah at the Kotel were continuing a tradition passed down through the ages—becoming men in the eyes of the Jewish people.

The bar mitzvah boys celebrated with rabbis and dignitaries from across the Israeli political spectrum. (Photo: Colel Chabad)
The bar mitzvah boys celebrated with rabbis and dignitaries from across the Israeli political spectrum. (Photo: Colel Chabad)