Coming of Age Without a Parent

Photo credit: Kobi Konkas

By Lea Naomi Levy

On Thursday November 7th, 32 IDF Orphans celebrated their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 23 boy and 9 girls, who all lost a parent while in service to the state, came together in Jerusalem to celebrate their coming of age.

Every year, the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization organizes this special event for orphans of Israel’s fallen soldiers and security forces.

Photo credit: Kobi Konkas

This year’s celebration started off with a visit to the Presidential Residence. The 32 orphans met with the President of Israel, Reuven ‘Ruvi’ Rivlin, and told him their stories. The celebration continued at the Kotel, where the teenagers learned about the importance of this ceremony symbolizing their journey into adulthood. The boys read from the Torah, there was singing and dancing, and everyone beamed with joy. The day closed with an event at the Bible Lands Museum where the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Aviv Kochavi, along with other prominent guests gave a speech to the new adults, encouraging them to be strong, to find themselves, and to go out into the future as themselves.

In Judaism turning the age of 12 or 13 symbolizes the start of adulthood and great responsibility. Most children learn responsibility from their parental role models. So, how do you come of age without a parent?

The IDFWO Org. provides financial and emotional support to IDF orphans. Though the organization will never be able to fill the void of a missing parent, it strives to provide the orphans with guidance and help them develop into happy, healthy adults and good citizens.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration is just the tip of the iceberg. IDFWO stands with IDF widows, widowers, and orphans throughout their lives. From the age of six, when the orphans enter the first grade, they are given a backpack full of school supplies. They are also given the opportunity to go to overnight camp during their school breaks four times a year. These “Otzma” or “Strength” camps give them a space in which they can feel comfortable and safe. They can be themselves and feel the support of their newfound family: other orphans who have also gone through the same ordeal. These camps, along with other support from the organization, provide the children with the proper guidance and role models for them to be able to come of age without a parent.

Lea Naomi Levy is a Resource Development Coordinator at the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization. To learn about the organization, visit idfwo.org/eng or email Lea at lea@idfwo.org.