Joshua, the sole Jewish resident of Children’s Village, a juvenile facility in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., never expected to celebrate his bar mitzvah when he turned 13 this week. He has faced innumerable hardships in his short life, and is isolated from family and friends. Joshua, whose last name is not being used to protect his privacy, never imagined having any celebration in his honor, let alone a bar mitzvah.

A few short miles away from Children’s Village, a group of retirees who gather every Wednesday morning at Highpoint Condos in Hartsdale for a Torah discussion, known as “The Shmooze,” with Rabbi Benjy Silverman of Chabad of the Rivertowns in Dobbs Ferry, heard about Joshua’s situation and decided to take action.

Silverman had just received a call from Joshua’s grandmother, Sandra, asking if he could somehow arrange a bar mitzvah for her grandson, to which the rabbi gladly agreed. When he mentioned the boy’s difficult situation, the class of some 30 seniors, none of whom have met Joshua or his family, offered to sponsor his bar mitzvah.

“The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us that when two Jews meet, they should make something good happen for a third person,” said Silverman. “This is the perfect example.” The seniors covered the costs of breakfast, live music, candy bags and gifts to help make the bar mitzvah memorable.

Joshua’s mother, Miriam, brought him to meet Silverman last week to prepare for the big event. He learned to wrap tefillin and recite the blessings over the Torah.

Early on June 7, Joshua was thrilled to celebrate his bar mitzvah at Chabad of the Rivertowns. He wrapped tefillin and was called up to the Torah, amid enthusiastic clapping and singing from “The Shmooze” members, his mother and a group of teenage boys from a local Jewish high school, Mesivta Menachem in Hastings-on-Hudson. Joshua relished being the center of attention and especially enjoyed when the guests threw candies at him after his aliyah to the Torah. At his request, some of the guests even went up to the synagogue balcony to throw the candies from above so he would feel the full impact.

Yeshivah students from Mesivta Menachem in Hastings-on-Hudson help Joshua celebrate.
Yeshivah students from Mesivta Menachem in Hastings-on-Hudson help Joshua celebrate.

Celebrating With New Friends

After the Torah reading, the celebration continued with lively music and dancing. Joshua couldn’t stop dancing to his favorite song, “Hashem Melech,” by popular Israeli singer Gad Elbaz. The guests then enjoyed a hearty breakfast, topped off by a delicious ice-cream birthday cake.

Miriam was overjoyed to see her son so happy and comfortable in a Jewish environment. “It’s the best bar mitzvah I ever attended!” she said.

Elliot Weitz, one of the participants in “The Shmooze” who helped sponsor the bar mitzvah, said: “Rabbi Silverman’s words have made me understand how we are part of an inclusive, extended Jewish family. Celebrating Joshua’s day at Chabad connected thoughts, words and reality. It was an uplifting experience for all of us participating in this wonderful Jewish community.”