A month after her bat mitzvah party at a Copenhagen synagogue was disrupted by a shooting attack, Hannah Bentow got another chance to celebrate her coming of age—this time in Jerusalem.
Still reeling from the February 14 attack, in which a lone Islamic gunman’s opened fire on the synagogue, killing community guard Dan Uzan, Bentow and her family were warmly supported by friends and strangers who showed up Thursday night to celebrate with them.
The Jerusalem party was the idea of Josh Salmon, a 33-year-old Toronto activist, who had read a Times of Israel article in which Bentow was quoted saying that she wished she had not had a bat mitzvah so that Uzan could still be alive.
Struck by the 12-year-old’s remark and saddened by the situation, Salmon offered to fly Bentow, her parents Mette (Miriam) and Claus, and brothers Jacob and Elias, to Israel for a week. He also used a personal connection to the owners of the Dan Hotels chain to arrange accommodation for the family in Tel Aviv, Eilat and Jerusalem.
“I thought it was a fantastic idea, but a bit overwhelming. Mom and Dad said they’d give me another party, but we didn’t know when, so this has been a really kind surprise,” the bat mitzvah girl told The Times of Israel as she took a break from greeting guests at her Jerusalem party.
“It is really a grand gesture,” her mother said of Salmon’s generosity. “The trip was truly something positive to look forward to and help us with our state of mind.”
According to Mette Bentow, an executive assistant at an executive search firm, each member of the family has been dealing with the emotional aftermath of the shooting attack in a different way.
“Since the initial shock wore off, I’ve felt a sense of guilt. The kids have been most traumatized by the evacuation experience,” she said, referring to the attendees of the Copenhagen party having been forced to hide in the synagogue basement for two hours before being escorted under heavy guard to a police station, where they stayed overnight.
Aware of what the family had been through, their friends living in Israel, as well as several dozen bat mitzvah-aged girls who did not know Bentow previously but had heard what had happened in Copenhagen, gathered Thursday night for the party at the Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem’s Katamonim neighborhood.
Having learned that Bentow had studied for her bat mitzvah through a program offered at Matan’s Copenhagen branch, Salmon reached out to Matan’s chancellor and founder, Malke Bina.
“We had known about this terrorist attack, so of course we wanted to give them a party,” Bina said. “Many of the girls here tonight are girls who have participated in our bat mitzvah program here in Israel.”
Twelve-year-old Rena from Chicago who was visiting Israel on her own bat mitzvah trip found out about the party from a friend and made a point of attending.
“Everyone should get to enjoy their bat mitzvah,” she said.
Lital Orgad, an old friend of Mette Bentow, came with her husband Lior from their home in Givatayim, a Tel Aviv suburb. Orgad had initially planned to be at the Copenhagen celebration, but had cancelled her plans due to a scheduling conflict.
“I was crying when I heard what had happened. I tried to call Mette, but I couldn’t reach her for half a day after the attack. I was panicked. I knew they were physically okay, but I was worried about the trauma,” she said.
Orgad said she had called her friend after the January 9 terrorist attack at the Hyper Cacher market in Paris, asking her whether she and her family would consider moving from Copenhagen to Israel.
“Usually it is the opposite, with Mette calling me when there is a terror here. She invited us to stay with them in Denmark during the war last summer,” Orgad said.
Mette Bentow, whose ancestors came to Denmark from Poland and Belarus in 1903, said she and others in the Danish Jewish community felt it was only a matter of time before the terror attacks against Jews that had been happening in other European communities would also be targeted at them.
“It was moving closer and closer. We were warning it could happen,” she said.
However, even now, she doesn’t believe that the average Danish citizen truly understands the threat of Islamist terror.
“They don’t get it,” she said.
Before the deejay pumped up the music and the women swept the bat mitzvah girl up into a joyful circle dance, her mother told the assembled guests in Hebrew, English and Danish about the speech her daughter gave in the synagogue in Copenhagen just shortly before the shooting.
The speech, a commentary about the weekly Torah portion on the responsibility of doing good and the importance of treating people with compassion no matter what their background, took on an added resonance following the attack.
“She also spoke about how when you come as an immigrant to a new country, you have the responsibility to integrate into that society, just as her great-great-grandparents did upon their arrival in Denmark. And at the same time, the society has a responsibility to help you integrate,” she said.
A month after her bat mitzvah party at the synagogue just a five-minute walk from her home in Copenhagen was cut short by violence, Bentow said she considers herself the same as before, only a bit stronger now.
The shooting attack will forever mar Bentow’s coming of age, but she and her family do not intend to let it define it. The Israel trip and Jerusalem party are part of the process by which they are all moving forward.
“It’s hard to believe that something so good started with something so bad,” said Mette Bentow as she stood in front of the many guests at Thursday’s party—the one her daughter will remember with joy.
“Sometimes you do get a second chance,” she said.