A group of 87 senior citizens celebrated their belated bar and bat mitzvahs at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Monday.
Much of the group survived the Holocaust as children and therefore were unable to celebrate the traditional Jewish coming of age ceremony at the appropriate time, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
“From the time of what happened to us, I don’t believe in anything and haven’t gone to synagogue or prayed,” Yaakov Eckstein, 80, told the paper. He added that the prayers at the Western Wall were the first he has said since World War II.
The event was organized by a several Magen David Adom (Israel’s emergency medical service) volunteers from the central town of Holon, where most of the survivors live. Magen David Adom head Eli Bin said it was an honor to facilitate the mass ceremony, which he hoped would ease the memories of the “lost childhoods” the survivors experienced.
In a related story, on Monday 133 orphaned boys celebrated their bar mitzvahs together at the Western Wall, Israel National News reported. The orphans, who are under the sponsorship of Chabad, received a set of tefillin (phylacteries) and were called up to read a Torah portion.
The boys “don’t have their fathers, and the father is a major figure in the synagogue” and so they often shy away from the ceremony, but “having a bar mitzvah with other kids in the same situation gives them the push so that they want to do it,” Scholom Duchman, international director of the Colel Chabad charity organization, said.
The Chabad educational program, which was initiated in the 1990s to help newly arrived children from Russia, shifted gears in recent years to focus on orphans and has around 800 students, Duchman said.