Monday, May 16, 2016, was a very special day in the lives of 54 Deaf students from across Israel. Each one approaching their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, preparing to join a long line of generations before them in accepting the yoke of mitzvot joined together to participate in a most unique and moving program.
The Bar & Bat Mitzvah Event is the crowning jewel of the International Young Israel Movement (IYIM) – Israel Region Judaic Heritage Program for the Deaf, and carried out in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and The Association of the Deaf in Israel (ACHA). The program is the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of efforts on the side of IYIM staff and the students themselves, as they are guided through preparation for the day’s events, and their coming into the age of mitzvot.
Buses full of celebrants from cities including Be’er Sheva, Tiberias, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem gathered to meet at the majestic Ohel Ari Synagogue in Ra’anana. Local congregants were in attendance, mingling with guests, as well as the members of Kollel Eretz Chemda who graciously joined the ceremony, bringing along their personal tefillin to help the Bar Mitzvah boys perform the mitzvah of donning tefillin perhaps for the first time.
As tradition has had it over the past 20 years of running this phenomenal program, the master of ceremonies, Rav Chanoch Yeres, Director of the IYIM Judaic Heritage Program for the Deaf, opened with greetings of Mazal tov and Divrei Torah connected to the day. Words of mazal tov were also shared by Yakov Sinai of ACHA; Rav Yitzchak Steinberg, head of the Kollel Eretz Chemda; and Aviva Sherman, IYIM Director of Programming, who in addition to continuing the blessing for the families of the Bnei Mitzvah acknowledged the incredible hard work of Rav Alexander Yeres and Rav Chanoch Yeres in making the celebration come to life, and the continued support of JAFI for this yearly event.
The Bnei Mitzvah were called to the Bimah to receive special gifts in honor of their coming to the age of mitzvot – the boys received an embroidered tallit bag, tallit and siddur; and the girls received beautiful handmade Shabbat candlesticks, uniquely decorated shabbat candles and a siddur.
The boys were then guided in the donning of their tallit and tefillin, a very moving experience for themselves and their parents. The energy was that of joy and excitement, photographs being taken from all angles, and the light on the boys’ and parent’s faces apparent.
The boys were called up to the Bimah where they said the blessing on the Torah, and Rav Chanoch Yeres read that day’s portion. Candies and cheer showered them at the conclusion of the reading, and the girls were then brought up to the Bimah where they recited the Shema and special prayer for their Bat Mitzvah, and were met with a similar shower of sweets and joy from their family and friends.
The festive meal followed where all guests were in for a treat: several participating schools had worked hard throughout the year to choreograph performances – in sign language, of course – to share at this joyous occasion.
The day’s activity took the celebrants to the Kfar Saba Heritage Museum where the students were treated to several workshops on mosaics and glass-blowing, and got to take home their very own creations. Families got to sit and connect and tour the museum’s rich history and beautiful layout.
Indeed, parents expressed their immense thanks for the unique opportunity provided by the day’s events – their children getting to meet and connect with other Deaf children from throughout the country, sharing experiences and seeing that they are not alone in their corner of the country, rather quite the opposite: Deaf culture is rich and deep throughout Israel, and they are a part of that. The parents had a similar experience, meeting one another and being enlightened and supported by sharing stories and experiences of raising a Deaf child.
Keren Shmueli, Director of the Tiberias Deaf clubhouse, has been a major positive voice for this event within her community, gathering the families together and getting them to participate. “Each year is wonderful and completely unique, and this year is no exception. The way you are able to match the day’s activity and ceremony to the needs of the students is wonderful. They have such a fantastic time.”
In all, it was a day of joy, excitement, sharing and immense mutual gratitude. As thankful as the families are to those organizations that worked hard to put the day together, so too is IYIM overjoyed to be a part of this incredible annual event, and looks forward to touching the lives of more Israeli Deaf youth in the days, weeks and years to come.
Photo credits: Video Eden
Written By: Aviva Sherman, IYIM