|The whole bar mitzvah party at the Western Wall. Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky is holding the banner on the far left.|
At his bar mitzvah at Cong. Keter Torah in February, Teaneck resident Daniel Raykher announced that he’d use a portion of his gift money to sponsor bar mitzvahs for disadvantaged boys in Israel.
True to his word – and with lots of help from his parents and Bris Avrohom executive director Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky – Daniel and his family traveled to Israel this summer to join 13 young men at the festive occasion.
Summer Bar/Bat Mitzvah“You had to see Daniel and his father dancing with the bar mitzvah boys,” said Kanelsky, who was there with his wife, Shterney, for the religious service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem July 2. The night before, there had been a massive party, complete with a dinner and band, in Beersheba.
Daniel’s father, Greg, is a board member of Bris Avrohom, the Hillside-based Chabad organization serving immigrants from the former Soviet Union. An active Bris Avrohom chapter also functions in Fair Lawn.
From the time he was a toddler, Daniel has accompanied his parents to Bris Avrohom’s annual group wedding for Russian Jewish couples who previously had only a civil union.
|Daniel Raykher, left, and his brother Zachary (on Greg Raykher’s shoulders) celebrate with bar mitzvah boys in Israel from the former Soviet Union. At right is Beersheba Chabad’s Rabbi Zalman Gorelik. Photos courtesy of Bris Avrohom|
“That’s where he got the idea for the group bar mitzvah,” said Greg Raykher, a native of Russia. “Rabbi Kanelsky inspired him and led the way.”
The family decided to focus on Beersheba because it is not far from the rocket-barraged town of Sderot, and it has a large Russian immigrant population.
Kanelsky identified appropriate young men with the help of Beersheba Chabad Rabbi Zalman Gorelik and other local leaders. Daniel, a Yavneh Academy eighth-grader, contributed enough money to sponsor seven boys. Kanelsky found individual donors to include six more. The thousands of contributed dollars paid for bar mitzvah lessons and meaningful gifts in addition to the party.
“Rabbi Gorelik made everything possible, and we paid all the bills,” said Kanelsky.
Each family received books on Judaism, a pair of candlesticks, and a kiddush cup. The boys got tefillin and the fathers received prayer shawls.
But not all the boys had parents present.
“There was a whole gamut of situations,” said Daniel’s father. “Some of the kids had already had a party, but not a religious service. Others would not have had either, including some living in foster homes. It was a tremendous highlight for them.”
Each boy was called up to the Torah, and several had studied enough to be able to read from it. “It was so beautiful,” said Kanelsky.
Daniel interacted with all the boys, speaking with them in a mix of Hebrew and English. “It was good for him to see how other kids live and to feel a sense of responsibility for people in Israel,” said his father.
The entire Raykher family came along, including Daniel’s mother Daphna, sisters Abigail, 11, and Zoe, 7, and brother Zachary, 5 1/2.
“This was not really about us,” Greg Raykher stressed. “We made it clear that a portion of Daniel’s gifts would go to this, but at the end of the day it was our guests who made this possible.”
Kanelsky hopes to make the event an annual affair.