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Orphaned Celebrate a Milestone

Children wearing bar/bat mitvah T-shirts

"Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven.
A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing." Ecclesiastes

From the depth of a loss,life continues as each season changes. Imagine kissing your husband as he went off to work defending Israel, and your children to school. A normal day becomes a nightmare when there is a knock on your front door, only to find a member of the IDF, a soldier you have never met, who tells you the words no wants to hear: "Your loving husband and father of your children is gone." What do you do; who do you call? There is no falling apart because your children lost their father and need a strong mother.

In 1991, women who had been through the same loss came together to create a much-needed organization called IDF Widow and Orphan (IDFWO), a caring community providing emotional support when needed.

"A nonprofit charity that is solely recognized by the State of Israel, representing the widows and orphans of Israel's fallen soldiers and security forces. For the 8,000 Druze, Jews, Christian and Bedouin women and children who lost their loved ones, the IDFWO is their second family. The IDFWO is that backbone of emotional, financial, and social support that a parent or spouse generally provides, making a world of difference in the widows' and orphans' lives." IDFWO website

As seasons change, so do the needs of programs that are offered. When a Jewish boy turns 13, and a girl 12, it is a time to enter Jewish adulthood, which usually demonstrates a bright future ahead. A time of joy, yet, a time of sadness with the absence of a parent. Since 1991, IDFWO annually celebrates, as a community, Bar and Bat Mitzvas. In 2017, 28 children, 17 boys and 11 girls all shared a tragic commonality: the loss of a parent who served Israel. Not all were Jewish. Some were Bedouin, Christian and Druze.

I had the honor of celebrating this special time in the life of these young teenagers and their mothers.They celebrated throughout an entire day, alongside the President of Israel, IDF Chief of Staff, Chief of Israel Police, Commissioner of Israel Police, Head of the Families & Commemoration Department at the Ministry of Defense, Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons and Defense Attaché Col. Tony Lovett, German Ambassador Clemens von Goetze, and Defense Attaché, Col. (GS) Michael Popielas, Twenty-one guests from around the world also joined in the festivities.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said: "From the age of bar/bat mitzvah, you are expected to be more responsible. I knew some of your fathers and what characterized them beyond their great love for the family - for you, is the great responsibility for the security of the State that we continue in their names. The responsibility that you and I accept from day to day is very characteristic of your fathers and we remember them on this day."

"I want to wish you success and to continue to realize your potential, face your challenges and achieve your aspirations; do the best you can to influence your destiny and contribute to your surroundings That's also something that characterizes maturity - the desire to have a wider influence on one's family and the society we all share, and try to make it better," added the Chief of Staff.

"You are the next generation. You will be the ones protecting us. I hope you will spread our message of law and order and set an example for society," said Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
"This is an emotional day," Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Aviv Kochavi said.
"You read significant words that have guided the Jewish world for centuries. This is both a public and personal event for you; your loss is our loss. Your father will stay beside you in whatever path you choose." "Their memory is something we will all honor," he added.

"Every bar/bat mitzvah child, including four Druze, received gifts donated by the Family and Commemoration Division at the Ministry of Defense, Modan, Fox, Sano, Steimatzky, Newpan, Nike and Techelet Communications. These gifts ranged from sports hats and rucksacks, to speakers, to translators, to gift cards to spend at shopping malls. The rabbinate also gave all orphans candlesticks or tefillin," said Dana Peer, Head of Resource Development and International Relations

Learning to put on tefillin is usually a special time between father and son. IDF soldiers were on the spot, explaining how to pray and the proper way of putting on tefillin. One on one taking the time, sharing a moment.

While the boys were celebrating reading from the Torah, the girls were off learning the importance of lighting candles and women's responsibilities.

After leaving the Western Wall, we traveled to the residence of Israel's President Reuven Rivlin. While the President and his wife Nechama held a festive party just for the 28 IDF and security force orphans, invited guests enjoyed the beauty of the President's backyard and small synagogue. Time to reflect on the day.

"Nechama and I are very excited today to welcome you," the President began, adding: "At this age you become bar mitzvah, committed to mitzvot, with rights and obligations. Your maturing began early, from the day the family was visited by great disaster, the day we lost one of your parents. We know what a hard road you traveled to overcome all the difficulties you faced when you were left without someone so beloved, someone who was to serve as mentor, teacher, educator, and guide."

The President added that "these are the gaps that the organization attempts to fill - the lack - as much as possible, and we are full of appreciation for its endeavors. Here we have the opportunity to participate in this joy mixed with the sorrow and pain that was your lot at various times. You, who at a young age could hardly understand the magnitude of the tragedy that befell you, one which you learned to understand over the years."

November 2017: Bar/Bat mitzvah children with the President of Israel

"We are glad to be able to be with you at this important moment, not in place of your beloved parent, but together with him. They are always in your heart, in our hearts, because they are our children, because of them, all of us can continue to live our normal lives here,"Rivlin concluded.

The youngsters talked about the significance of the transition to bar/bat mitzvah for them. Inbar Cohen of Pardes Hannah said: "The significance of accepting the commandments for me is accepting responsibility, and I can already decide for myself." Yuval Yisraeli added, "There is more responsibility now, and we are more mature; the responsibility at home grows, and with it the rights." The girls and boys also talked about the bar and bat mitzvah celebrations they were planning with their families and about the festivities that the Widows and Orphans Organization would hold for them.

As morning passed to late afternoon, the festive celebration traveled to the Jerusalem Center for the Performing Arts. There a reception was held followed by entertainment and greetings.

This celebration was emotional, holy, joyous, and extraordinarily heartwarming. When I was congratulating the mothers and young adults, I also expressed my sadness for their loss. 

A soldier helping a boy with tefillin

t was difficult for me, as someone who never lost a spouse or parent defending Israel or in a terrorist attack. I could not help but wonder how the loss might feel and the process to heal. Were my feelings wrong? Dana Peer, answered my question, "No, it was not wrong. It is important for IDF widows and orphans to know that there are people all over the world who care about their and their family's sacrifice. Expressing your sadness for their loss is a way to show that you try to understand them and that we haven't forgotten their sacrifice, that we will stand with them at all moments."

Anyone who supports Israel recognizes the importance of the IDF. Unfortunately, many have died defending our Nation. We as Jews, are caring people and follow in the footsteps of our Forefather, Abraham, welcoming strangers. IDF widows and orphans are not strangers, but part of our community, called Israel.

For more information regarding IDFWO: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website:



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Sunday, 19 May 2024

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