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Bar Mitzvah Special
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel National News Radio
May 26, 2002

Yesterday, Elisha Shor, the lanky, red-haired, freckled son of one of my oldest friends celebrated his bar mitzvah in his home town of Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, just south of Jerusalem.

The Shabbat event was truly the celebration of his bar mitzvah, since Elisha had put on tefillin for the first time at the Kotel about 10 days ago, in the presence of his immediate family.

Elisha's parents, Mike and Debbie Shor, had both made aliya in their youth. Mike, from England, as a teenager, together with his parents and two brothers; and Debbie, as a young college graduate from Portland, Oregon. Debbie's decision proved to be the catalyst that brought her older sister, Marna, and eventually their parents, Matti and Shari Kleinman to live in Jerusalem.

Bar mitzvah boy, Elisha, is the third of their four children. His older sisters, Moriya and Ayelet celebrated their bat mitzvahs a few years ago, and little brother Yonatan has nine years before he takes on the mitzvot. They were all born in Alon Shvut, a green, growing, peaceful bedroom community of some 500 families about 15 minutes drive from Jerusalem.

For us members of the older generation, the gathering at Alon Shvut proved to be a joyous reunion and a reminder of the wonders of the ingathering of the exiles. On Friday night, we made our own minyan in the community's simcha hall. I consider myself family of the Kleinman/Shors, since Debbie and I spent our significant college years together, and we've managed to attend almost all our respective family simchas since then. But everyone else present on Friday night, were "real" relatives.

Mike's brother Ami (British) and his wife Sara (Toronto born) came from Maaleh Adumim with their four sabra sons, Israeli daughter-in-law and first grandson. Older brother Natan arrived from England where he's working for the year. Cousin, Rabbi Dr. Danny Sinclair (British born) and his wife Debbie (Australia) came from Jerusalem, with Danny's mum, Auntie Leah (British born). Debbie's sister Marna (US) and husband Stan (US) were there from Jerusalem. Their cousin Marna (US) and Dr. Fred (US) and their three small children drove in from Jerusalem too. Elisha's maternal grandparents, Shari (Hungary) and Matti (US) enlivened the proceedings and enjoyed the company of their son Vernon who is the only family member still living in the US.

The plan was for the family to have dinner and lunch together in the hall. Daven in the community shul on Shabbat morning where Elisha would read the Torah portion, and the larger simcha would be seuda shelishit (the third shabbat meal) followed by music and dancing after havdalah at the close of Shabbat.

The simplicity and informality of the event is in marked contrast to the staid, formal bar mitzvahs we all remember from our youth. Elisha dressed in plain white shirt; quietly enjoys the casual proceedings. He reads the Torah with ease and delivers a short but meaningful dvar Torah in the afternoon. Over lunch, Mike invites anyone who wants to say a few words to stand up. Cousin by marriage, Steve (who prefers to stay anonymous to preserve his ability to travel in and out of the Arab world), a well known journalist, had walked over with his wife and daughter from the neighboring village of Elazar. He rises to comment on the week's Torah portion and starts his talk by pointing out to us that contrary to western norms, all of us immigrants who have chosen to be in Israel, are experiencing a lower material standard of living than our parents. He notes that the overriding characteristic of Mike and Debbie and their family is their modesty. "They know that they're part of a larger picture, of something greater than themselves," he says, adding that we should try not to be like the Jews who badgered Moshe incessantly for meat to replace the manna.

Over lunch, we reminisce over our experiences in Bnei Akiva, the religious Zionist youth movement. All of us from England, Canada and Australia had taken part in countless summer camps, seminars and kibbutz experiences in the 1960s and 70s. We know so many people in common that we finish each other's sentences about this one or that. Danny Sinclair and I attended the same Jewish high school in London--now he's a grandfather with a Sabra grandchild. We all shared a vision that made us turn our backs on the lands of our birth. Places where our parents and grandparents had landed by chance, fleeing persecution, seeking freedom.

We look over to the table where the younger, Israeli-born generation is sitting. Confident and self-assured in their identity, they chatter away in their native Hebrew, but turn to us and speak fluent, if accented English. The boys in their white shirts and knitted kippot, had attended hesder yeshivot (combined army and study). The girls had finished national service. A few were still in high school, one in Jerusalem, one in nearby Kiryat Arba. We can't help wondering aloud how different their lives would have been if the parents had not made the fateful decision to throw in their lot with the national destiny of the Jewish people in its land.

There were chazanim (cantors) on both sides of Elisha's family, so music and singing have become a trademark of Shabbat and holidays in the Shor home. We outdid ourselves at all the bar mitzvah meals with harmonious renditions of favorite Zemirot (Shabbat songs) and verses from Psalms, that all seem to take on so much more meaning here.

As Shabbat draws to a close, the keyboard musician starts up a lively tune for Israeli dancing to begin. "Ve-shavu banim ligvulam." (The children have returned to their borders)