Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends
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Israeli boys become bar mitzvah with help from local friends

How the fund - and the relationships - grew

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

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