Mazel Tov! Your son's bar mitzvah is fast approaching! Your planner is filled with lists: menus, guest lists, schedules, and myriad other details. Clothing has been purchased, tefillin have been ordered, family and friends have been invited. Yet lately you have been feeling that something is missing. You can’t quite put your finger on it. Is there someone that you forgot to invite? No, you've combed through your contact lists multiple times. It must be something else.
The next day, as you wrap up your tefillin after davening, it occurs to you. How can you be sure that in the excitement of the celebration, with all the guests, fashionable clothing and delectable recipes, the main point of the bar mitzvah won't be lost on your son? He is becoming a young man, taking upon himself the responsibility of being a Jew, a part of the community, an adult. You have discussed these ideas with your son numerous times, but somehow the feeling remains: he is more interested in the celebration than in the responsibility that it signifies. You sigh deeply. This is a different generation. Is there anything that you can do?
Yad Eliezer, a well-known poverty relief organization, offers a unique solution to this dilemma. The Yad Eliezer Bar Mitzvah Twinning Program allows boys from America to 'twin' with a poor Israeli boy who will be celebrating his bar mitzvah the same week. Many of the Israeli bar mitzvah twins are dealing with very difficult family situations – a parent who is absent or physically or mentally unhealthy, or a sibling struggling with a life threatening disease. Some boys have celebrated their bar mitzvahs while their fathers were in a hospital or in jail, as well as numerous orphans who would have no bar mitzvah celebration at all if not for Yad Eliezer.
Does the Bar Mitzvah Twinning program have a greater influence on the life of the donor 'twin' or the recipient 'twin'? I'll let you decide.
Meir knew that he had a father. He even had some vague memories of him from when he was a small child, but that was a long time ago. It seemed that he and his mother had lived alone in their small apartment forever. Sometimes it wasn't a big deal, but sometimes it was really hard. Like now. His Bar Mitzvah was a month away, yet nothing at all was prepared. No invitations printed, no tefillin ordered, not even a new piece of clothing for the occasion. Each Shabbos morning he would go to shul alone, and listen carefully as the blessings before and after each Aliya were recited. Would he have his turn? Meir's sadness and worry welled up in his heart. He couldn’t tell Mother. He saw the stress and worries on her face. He knew how hard she worked, on her feet cooking for a yeshiva all day long. He knew that there was no extra money in the bank. He remembered the bitter cold that they had felt only months earlier when the electricity had been cut off due to lack of payment. The last thing that he wanted to do was cause her more pain.
Meir's mother Miriam knew very well that a big date was approaching, but what could she do? Her meager income barely covered her rent and utilities; she was lucky to be able to bring home some leftovers from the Yeshiva for them to eat. How could she begin to think of planning a Bar Mitzvah? Miriam lay awake at night wondering what would happen when Meir had to go to school the day after his bar mitzvah and would not even have his own pair of tefillin, never mind new clothing or a modest celebration. She was too preoccupied with worry to notice that Meir was soaking his pillow each night consumed by the very same thoughts. He would imagine the humiliation at having to pray without his own pair of tefillin, and imagine which of his classmates he might ask to borrow his tefillin when he was done. His cheeks would burn with shame at the thought, and he would just bury them deeper into his pillow.
Meir's teacher, who knew some of the details of the situation at home, contacted Miriam and asked her if any plans had been made to celebrate Meir's Bar Mitzvah. Miriam held back her tears as she replied in the negative. The teacher suggested that she contact Yad Eliezer, since he had heard that they help in such situations. Miriam took note of the Yad Eliezer address, which was only blocks away from the yeshiva where she worked. When she was able to take a break she ran over to the office, feeling fear and hope simultaneously with each step. When she arrived, she was greeted warmly by Milka. As Milka asked how she could be helpful, Miriam was so surprised and relieved to feel the real care and concern; her story tumbled out between choked sobs. "The Bar Mitzvah is a month away... and we have no tefillin, and no new clothing... I haven’t even thought about making a seuda..."
Milka offered Miriam some tissues and cup of water, then had her fill out a Bar Mitzvah twinning request form. Milka assured her that she would be in touch. When Miriam returned to work she felt a novel sense of relief; the hope in her heart far outweighed the fear.
That same week, Aryeh's parents in the New York area had decided that they wanted to add a spiritual component to their son's Bar Mitzvah celebration. The reception that they had prepared for would be a lovely event for their family and friends, and they realized that for a small fraction of what they were spending, they could teach their son a lifelong lesson about the true Torah heritage. After contacting Yad Eliezer, they learned that a donation of a thousand dollars would provide tefillin, a new suit, and a modest celebration for an impoverished boy in Israel. When they discussed the idea with Aryeh, he got excited and decided to take it to the next level. The following day he sent this letter to his friends and family,
"Dear Friends and Family,
On the upcoming event of my becoming a Bar Mitzvah, I have decided
to take upon myself the mitzvah of helping a less fortunate Bar Mitzvah boy
in Israel have his Bar Mitzvah with dignity. Through Yad Eliezer, an
organization which supports Bar Mitzvah aged boys who are very poor, do not
have a father, or live in other unfortunate circumstances, I will be able to "adopt"
a boy my age, correspond with him, and make sure that he receives a pair of
tefillin, has a modest seudah (meal), and is able to buy respectable, new
clothing for his celebration. I want to know that at least one other, less
fortunate Jewish boy will feel as special as I am going to feel on my Bar
Through Yad Eliezer's subsidized program, a pair of tefillin is
$500.00, a modest meal is $300.00 and a new suit is $200.00.
My parents have committed to pay some of the amount, and I have some savings,
but I have a long way to go.
I would prefer that my family and friends make a donation to this organization
instead of a Bar Mitzvah gift for myself.
Donation details were included at the end of the letter.
By the time Aryeh's Bar Mitzvah had arrived, the full sum was raised. Yad Eliezer bentchers decorated the artfully set tables, adding a spiritual dimension to the celebration, making it beautiful in every way.
What about Meir? Milka called Miriam and arranged for her to pick up her son's new tefillin. She also gave a voucher for a suit at a local clothing store, and arranged for a modest meal at her son's yeshiva on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. The day that Meir had dreaded turned out to be a lovely, heartfelt celebration. Again cheeks were flushed, but this time from joy and not shame.
A few weeks after the excitement, Aryeh's father asked him if he had gotten used to putting on tefillin each morning. Aryeh thought for a moment and then replied. "It no longer feels as awkward as it did in the beginning, but I still get excited each time. But you know what excites me most? The thought that there is a boy in Israel who might not have even had his own pair of tefillin, and he too is putting them on every morning and experiencing the same spiritual connection that I am. The gift that we gave him will last every day for the rest of his life, and it will also last the rest of mine."