Colel Chabad, the oldest continuously-running social welfare organisation in Israel since 1788, hosted a bat mitzvah celebration for 42 orphan girls and their families this week in Jerusalem. And while the sight of a mother and grandmother with tears in their eyes was occasionally seen, the joy and smiles could be felt throughout the entire event hall.

With the girls all dressed in their finest clothes, the programme and celebration took place at the Gutnick Hall run by Colel Chabad in Jerusalem. Starting the day’s activities with professional portraits and a personalised album, the girls then took part in a workshop learning about and participating in the mitzvah of hafrashat challah, enjoyed a fully catered four-course meal for family and friends with entertainment, music and dancing, and received a personalised bat mitzvah gift.

Naomi, a mother of seven who lost her husband Bentzion to cancer nearly two years ago, was so thankful for the opportunity for her daughter Heichal to take part in the bat mitzvah. Her son wasn’t able to participate in the bar mitzvah programme last year because he was still in his year of mourning for his father, but she hopes her younger sons can take part when their turn comes.

“We met many of these families at the Chanuka Retreat this year, and it’s such an important thing for us mothers to stay in touch and for our children to have others who understand what they each are going through,” said Naomi. Heichal brought four of her friends to celebrate with her and all the other girls. “It might sound funny to say, but because my daughter lost her father she gets to take part in special events such as this one, and that makes her special to her friends. The way this event is run is just so beautiful, and no one here feels like a charity case.”

The bat mitzvah celebration programme, now in its sixth year, is one of many programmes run by the organisation which place a strong emphasis on helping widows and orphans. Through educational support and guidance, to enrichment programmes, financial support and planning, Colel Chabad works to help each family with their specific needs.

“Being here with my daughter Adi is very moving,” said Vered Leshem, whose husband Doron also passed away nearly two years ago from cancer. “Adi’s friend participated in the bat mitzvah celebration last year, and we came and saw how wonderful it is and how much thought is put into putting the whole event together. From the programming all the way down to the little details, like the personalised aprons for each girl, it’s incredible.”
“Colel Chabad always makes us all feel equal,” continued Vered, who was joined at the celebration by her parents and four of her daughter’s friends. “They always respect us, and we really respect them in return.”

“We work to design our charitable efforts in ways that can make a real impact on the lives of these children by remembering them at the times that they need emotional and practical support the most,” says Rabbi Sholom Duchman, chairman of Colel Chabad. “Knowing that they might not be able to rely on the traditional family support to celebrate, we make every effort to give them a chance to enjoy and relax in ways that many might take for granted.”