Reporter's notebook

Through pain of loss, IDF orphans celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs at Western Wall

President Isaac Herzog meets with children of fallen IDF soldiers and security forces at Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance, where he commends their heroism

Children of fallen IDF soldiers celebrate their bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in a collective celebration on April 4, 2024. (Kobi Koenkas/IDF Widows & Orphans Organization).
Children of fallen IDF soldiers celebrate their bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in a collective celebration on April 4, 2024. (Kobi Koenkas/IDF Widows & Orphans Organization).

Hundreds gathered in the Western Wall plaza on Thursday to celebrate the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies of 52 children who have lost at least one parent in active duty in the IDF or other security forces.

The IDF Orphans and Widows Organization hosted the celebration along with the IDF, the Defense Ministry and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, through funding from private donors.

The festivities began with a joint ceremony for the boys and girls. Among those honored were five children who lost parents in the current Israel-Hamas war, including Lidor Shlomo, daughter of Sgt. Maj. Adir Shlomo. Lidor’s father was a Sderot police officer who was among the first killed in the October 7 battle at the Sderot police station.

“These events really do bring happiness,” Lidor’s mother, Chani, told The Times of Israel.

“It gives us a chance to get out of… the sadness. It is heartwarming.”

People celebrate at the Western Wall as children of fallen IDF soldiers mark their bar and bat mitzvahs together on April 4, 2024. (Maya Zanger-Nadis/Times of Israel).

Another young woman, Oria Golima, also lost her father, Sgt. Maj. Shmuel Smatzo Golima, on October 7, in the Sderot police station battle.

“I feel happy today,” Golima said, “because I met my friends from the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization camp I went to in December. Only they can understand what I feel. And I miss my father. This is my first birthday without him, and he should have been at my bat mitzvah.”

The chief rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and the chief rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Eyal Moshe Krim, jointly presided over the communal ceremony.

“In each and every one of our lives, there are important moments which can change one’s path and create one’s identity,” Krim told the families. “Every single one of you has already had one of these moments. A scarring moment in which your path changes suddenly. You did not ask for this.”

“You are not just another link in the chain of generations; you are leaders,” added Rabinowitz.

After their joint bar and bat mitzvah ceremony, families of fallen soldiers split into smaller groups to continue the festivities.

The boys put on tefillin in the men’s section of the Western Wall prayer area. Each child was paired with an IDF soldier to assist them in wrapping tefillin for the first time. Then, they were all given a chance to make a blessing on the Torah.

Shlomi Nahumson, CEO of the IDF Orphans and Widows Organization, assists a child as he says the blessing for putting on tefillin for the first time at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on April 4, 2024. (David Metzler/IDF Orphans and Widows Organization)

The girls went to the Western Wall Heritage Center, on the other side of the plaza from the Western Wall itself. They had a ceremony where mothers could offer their blessings to their daughters on the special day. Many IDF soldiers and Israel Police officers also accompanied the young women.

The initiative also included Druze and Bedouin families, who went to the police center near the Western Wall Plaza. There, Officer Alaa Harb, who is in charge of security at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is himself a Druze Israeli, spoke to the children and their families about the diversity in the Old City of Jerusalem and his job protecting its inhabitants and pilgrims.

Sana, the widow of the late Lt. Col. Safa Mohammed Izzeddin, was especially moved by Harb’s presentation. Her husband, who was killed in a traffic accident in 2022, was the commander of the IDF’s Jerusalem District Coordination and Liaison department at COGAT, the unit that coordinates with the Palestinians regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Every Friday night, he had attended a briefing at the Western Wall.

Upon entering the briefing room on Thursday with her children, Izzedin began to cry.

Overcome with emotion, Sana Izzeddin tears up as she sits in the place where her late husband, Lt. Col. Safa Mohammed Izzeddin, would sit in mission briefings at the Western Wall police station on April 4, 2024. (Maya Zanger-Nadis/Times of Israel).

“I would go to the Western Wall, and I would always wonder,” she told The Times of Israel, “‘Where did he sit?’ I know he was here every Friday, but I didn’t know where. When we came into the room [today], the officer told me, ‘Every Friday, Safa would sit right here.’ So I chose that chair.”

Later in the afternoon, the families reconvened in Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance for a meeting with President Isaac Herzog and additional celebrations.

“Today is a holiday for you and for us,” Herzog told the group.

President Isaac Herzog is pictured with the children of fallen IDF soldiers who celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs on April 4, 2024. (Kobi Koenkas/IDF Widows & Orphans Organization)

“From a young age, you were already exposed to profound pain, loss and hardship. It’s hard to argue that you didn’t grow up too fast. But you learned to grow from the pain, beside the pain. Each and every one of you is a hero in your own right. And I am very, very proud of you,” said the president.

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