The Holocaust deprived them of celebrating an important Jewish milestone, but on Monday, 45 survivors finally celebrated their bar and bat mitzva ceremonies for the first time, at a communal event at the Western Wall.
The participants are all Israeli citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union.
“We ran away with nothing but the clothes we had on us,” recalled Aspir Ravicher, 89, who was 11-years-old when World War II broke out. Her family fled from their homes in Ukraine to Russia. “We had nothing, we were hungry all the time, we lived in a crowded place. I remember that it was mostly cold and I was very hungry. A bat mitzva was not something we could have done,” she explained.
“I am so excited and happy,” said Alexander Buchnik, 87, who reached bar mitzva age immediately upon the liberation of Moscow from the Nazis. When the war ended, his family returned to the city, “but we could not celebrate my bar mitzva,” he said, because his mother “was busy surviving and keeping us alive. We could not think about it at all.”
In 1994, Buchnik immigrated to Israel with his family and said that he had long been waiting for the moment when he would celebrate his bar mitzva. “I thought about it during the course of my life, and all my life I felt that I missed it so much.”
Jews were forced to hide their religious identity not only during the war but also during the communist rule in the years that followed.