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January 31, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 31, 2014 PAGE 7B By Judy Lash Balint JNS.org JERUSALEM--It's 9:30 a.m. on a sunny Monday morning in the Jewish Quar- ter of Jerusalem's Old City. Two large groups of revelers almost collide in the alley leading to the main square. Both groups are accom- panied by a clarinetist and a drummer belting out tradi- tional "simcha" tunes, and in the middle of both are 13-year-old boys dancing with beaming grandmas and uncles under a small chuppah as they make their way under the stone arches from the Western Wall. It's the Israeliversion of the bar mitzvah extravaganza, and it's repeated every Monday and Thursday (days when the Torah is read) throughout the year. Boys from all over the country get called up to the Torah for the first time at the Wall, and then get danced up the steps to the Jewish Quarter and on to a lavish breakfast spread at one of the many restaurants or halls dotting the area. But not every bar or bat mitzvah-age teen in Israel is fortunate enough to have that kind of experience. For the tens of thousands of youths from dysfunctional families who are cared for in residential facilities all over the Jewish state, it's often Diaspora Jews who make the difference between having no bar/bat mitzvah at all, or having a meaningful transition into Jewish responsibility. Zemira Ozarowski, coor- dinator of donor relations for AMIT, a network of educa- tional programs that serves 28,000 Israeli children, is responsible for the twinning program that encourages American bar and bat mitzvah kids to share their celebration with needy Israeli kids. Some of the Americans come over with their families to take part in the simcha they have sponsored, Ozarowski explains, while others con- duct fund-raising projects at home and send over funds to help support AMIT's efforts to inject joy into the lives of Israeli kids from difficult backgrounds. Part of the donation is designated for the Israeli "twin" to receive a traditional bnei mitzvah gift of a siddur or tefillin. Putting the mitzv00LtL in bar mitzvah Some lasting relationships have been forged, Ozarowski notes, and the program was recently expanded to include twinning between Israeli pre-teens from established Jerusalem neighborhoods and kids in AMIT's Beit Hayeled facility in Gilo. In Netanya, the Beit Elaz- raki Children's Home run by Emunah, a prominent.reli- gious Israeli women's move- ment with worldwide sup- porters, hosts many bar and bat mitzvah twinning events. American bnei mitzvah and their families have sponsored several major projects at the home, which houses almost 300 children whose families cannot care for them. Back in 2011, a group of budding musicians from Te- aneck, N J, raised more than $20,000 as their bar mitzvah project, which funded new equipment for the music therapy program at Belt Elazraki. Several times a year, American and British bnei mitzvah join their peers at Beit Elazraki for a lively party that always features loud music and a festive meal. A popular bnei mitzvah activity for institutional groups as well as individual families is a visit to the Yad Lashiryon Latrun Tank Museum a few miles west of Jerusalem. Elisha Kramer, a U.S.-born graduate student, spent part of his army ser- vice as a tour guide at the museum. "Some weeks there would be two or three bar mitzvah groups every day," Kramer recalls. "It's a great place for kids to learn about the need for a strong Israel and the legiti- macy of fighting for Israel," Kramer adds regarding the outdoor museum where more than 150 armored vehicles are on display along with a moving memorial complex dedicated to fallen Israeli soldiers. Many bnei mitzvah want to take an active role in their cel- ebration, and Jerusalem Scav- enger Hunts provides creative opportunities for learning and fun in and around Jerusalem. Founder and director Tali Tarlow explains that Israeli kids can train to guide their friends and family on a fun- filled, educational, thematic navigation through the city as they engage with its history and figure out their place in its future, The program is tai- lored to the interests of each child, who works with one of the Scavenger Hunt profes- sional guides and educators to develop a presentation at one of the stations used in the Hunt. "We believe a bar or bat mitzvah should be a special occasion and an opportunity for a meaningful experience," says Tarlow, a long-time infor- mal educator who made aliyah from South Africa. Any family that's been part of the Package from Home Bar and Bat Mitzvah Project would agree with that sentiment. Started by American immigrant Barbara Silverman at the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, the volunteer-run program prepares and sends tens of thousands of care packages to Israeli soldiers, focusing particularly on Lone Soldiers (soldiers without family in Israel) and wounded soldiers. Bnei mitzvah in the U.S. can raise money for the project, and those visiting can take part in the packaging and dis- tribution of everything from warm clothing to toiletries to snacks. Each package includes letters of appreciation for the soldiers, which kids are encouraged to write. For children with physical as well as emotional chal- lenges, it takes a special effort to create a bar or bat mitzvah program they can relate to. At a recent ceremony in a Jerusalem synagogue, 63 deaf and hard of hearing children were called to the Torah in front of parents who were visibly moved by the moment, which was sponsored by the International Young Israel Movement (IYIM) and its Deaf Programming Division in cooperation with the Jewish Agency. Boys with cochlear implants opened up the brand new prayer shawls provided by the IYIM with a flourish, while groups of girls chattered in sign language and waited for their turn to recite a special blessing for becoming a bat mitzvah. Ben Zion Chen, the head of the Association for the Deaf in Israel told the kids, "I grew up with hearing parents and didn't know what Torah was. You are all very fortunate." "It's important that you know your rights and how to deal with your deafness as you grow up," Chen added, while a sign language interpreter Judy Lash Balint Rabbi Chanoch Yeres, director of the Deaf Programming Division of International Young Israel Movement (IYIM), leads a 2013 bar mitzvah for 63 deaf and hard of hearing children. Judy Lash Balint A father helps his hard of hearing son put on tefillin for the first time at a bar mitzvah organized by the International Young Israel Movement and the Jewish Agency for Israel. translated his words to the attentive students. "He didn't sleep all last night," said Orna regarding her son Shai, a profoundly deaf 13-year-old from Ramie. "He's gone through so many operations, and had so many difficulties in his short life-- it's a joy to be here with him and see how happy he is," she exclaimed as Shai took his place under the prayer shawl spread over his group, while Rabbi Chanoch Yeres, director of the IYIM Deaf Pro- gramming Division read the Torah portion. In true Israeli bnei mitzvah style, the kids and their families, who had come from all over Israel, were treated to a celebratory lunch and a tour of the Old City to mark the day. By Michelle Alperin JNS.org Worldwide performances of "Fiddler on the Roof" at- test to its cultural power, as it evokes the yearning for tradition in a changing world. What is behind its staying power? According to Alisa Solomon, author of the new book "Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof" (Metropolitan, $32 hardcover), it is the show's balance between the univer- sal and the particular. During a recent confer- ence at Princeton University celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the play's Broadway opening on Sept. 22, 1964, Solomon, a profes- sor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia New book celebrates ,00d9 years of 'Fiddler' University, said the show surpassed the expectations of its creators and "quickly belonged to everyone." She shared an anecdote about a Tokyo rehearsal during which a local producer asked Joseph Stein, who wrote the play, whether Americans really understood "Fiddler" "because it's so Japanese." While its appeal is univer- sal, for Jews "Fiddler" calls forth the "old country." "To this day it is taught as a document of shtetl life and thus came to stand for Jewishness itself," Solomon said at the Nov. 14-15 Princ- eton symposium, which probed the play's roots, its creative development and its cultural resonances at home and abroad. Solomon suggested that the ley to the show's abiding power, in a way its authors couldn't have guessed, is that it is "focused on tradition rather than Torah or law." The idea of tradition, she adds, is dear to any culture in the modern world. "It is a way of embracing a legacy without having to adopt its strictures," she said. By successfully repre- senting the idea of the East European Jewish past and an idyllic idea of the shtetl, said Solomon, the show "served a need of American Jews, who both needed to honor, rec- ognize, claim, and embrace a heritage and life that was no more and at the same time needed to distinguish themselves from that." The play came to be at a moment in the U.S. when the counterculture was growing, feminism was coming to the fore, and the U.S. involve- ment in the Vietnam War was increasing. Solomon noted that its audiences saw the developing "generation gap" through the eyes of both Te- vye and his daughters. "Part of the genius of the show is to have both perspectives," she said. In the end, the legacy of "Fiddler on the Roof" may be its ability to reach both back- ward and forward. Joanna Merlin's favorite moment was the (arewell scene. "It was very reminiscent for me of my grandmother leaving," she said, noting that the final scene was a prelude to an unknown future. "I was kind of experienc- ing what they were looking forward to when they were leaving each other, in addi- tion to having to say goodbye to each other, as they were all going to different parts of the world," Merlin added. "It was very close and personal for me." HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man and General Maintenance Air Conditioning Electrical Plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960