This is a story that should have been told over a week ago. That’s because it actually took place on Shabbat of Parshat B’Shalach, the Torah portion that we read last Saturday. Better late than never.
I live in Givat Zeev, a small town of about 25,000 people just north of Jerusalem. Most people know us as the town you pass when driving on road 443 towards Modiin. Many know that we are across from the Ofer military prison. We have had our share of newsworthy items in the past year that have made us famous (or infamous?). Earlier this year bleachers in the Karlin/Stollin Synagogue fell just as the Shavuot holiday was about to begin. Our most famous neighbor Miriam Peretz was a candidate to become the first woman President of Israel. These stories and a few more really put Givat Zeev on the map!
However, these and other stories do not compare with the story that took place last Shabbat. A story that was not covered by the media. It is a story that I feel deserves to be told. A story of a “Very Special Bar Mitzvah”.
A Bar Mitzvah is the “right of passage” in Judaism for a boy who reaches the age of 13. The boy becomes a man. In our community synagogue of 35 families known as the “Beit Knesset Ashkenazi” of Givat Zeev, a Bar Mitzvah boy is called to the Torah, receives an “Aliyah” and says the blessings. He may chant a portion of the Parsha and/or the Maftir or the entire reading, depending on his abilities. He is now officially an M.O.T- a Member of the Tribe.
As I said, this Bar Mitzvah was special. This was not just another 13 year old boy. This boy was 90 years young! This boy never had a Bar Mitzvah. This boy was living in the Soviet Union when he was 13. He was not able to have a Bar Mitzvah then. When he was 70, he thought about having a Bar Mitzvah. Didn’t happen. When he was 80, he thought about it again. Still didn’t happen. When he turned 90, he decided to finally become a Bar Mitzvah. He has been living in Givat Zeev for over 20 years , so we were the lucky Synagogue community who could make this happen for him.
We helped SHLOMO DRESNER, a former Prisoner of Zion finally celebrate his Bar Mitzvah!
SHLOMO DRESNER arrived in Israel as part of a group of 150 former Prisoners of Zion from the Soviet Union. They arrived on October 10, 1973 the first day of the Yom Kippur War and according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency demanded to be sent anywhere to “help the fighting boys”. Instead, they were sent to absorption centers throughout the country.
SHLOMO DRESNER had been a defendant in the Famous “Kishinev trial”. He was part of a group that planned to hijack a plane with other Jews to get out of Russia and bring the plight of Soviet Jews to the world stage. He was a member of the Pro Israel Underground in Leningrad. Shlomo was arrested in 1970, and sentenced to 3 years in Soviet Prison. While in the Potma prison, he and other Jewish prisoners were forbidden to visit with each other and to study Hebrew. They were denied visits from relatives for 6 months. The camp warden publicly stated that it was necessary to fight against “zionist groups”. This resulted in many antisemitic outbursts in Camp 3, where Shlomo was a prisoner.
Shlomo is a tough man. He managed to survive and complete his 3-year sentence. After it ended, he received his exit visa and came on Aliyah to Israel.
The following story was told in our Beit Knesset as Shlomo celebrated his “Bar Mitzvah”.
When he was 13 in 1945, Shlomo entered the 5th grade. He had missed a year of school due to the war and only started school some months after the war ended. On the day he started school, he saw a group of kids standing in a circle. In the middle of the circle stood a boy. All the kids were yelling at this boy “Zhid”, which means a Hebrew, a Jew. Shlomo understood that they were cursing the boy, making fun of him. They were pushing and punching him from side to side. The boy had blond hair and did not even look Jewish. Yet he was being pushed and punched because he was a Jew. Shlomo jumped into the circle and started hitting everyone. Whoever came close, Shlomo hit them and kept them away from this boy. When the teacher came, all the kids ran away. At that moment Shlomo says he became a man. In Shlomo’s words-“I did not know anything about Judaism. But in my genes, I knew I was a Jew. My fists were my Bar Mitzvah!”
Recently Shlomo attended the bar mitzvah of one of his grandsons. At that point, he decided to have his own Bar Mitzvah – the one he never had. He told a Rabbi the following: “I never had a Bar Mitzvah. At age 70, I started to think about it, and again at age 80. Finally at age 90, I decided I must do this. I did not “do” my Brit Milah (circumcision). My parents did that to me, as the Jewish religion dictates. I married my wife Lilly in a Jewish ceremony with a Hupa and a Ketubah which we still have to this day even though it was prohibited in Soviet Russia. We circumcised our son after his birth. And my Bar Mitzvah I did with my fist! Now I want to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah.”
With the help of his friend Dudi, one of our synagogue members, Shlomo met with our Rav Motti, the Gabbaim Aharon, Shimshon, Yehuda, and Maor our Torah Reader. Together they planned and helped him prepare to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. Shlomo at age 90 clearly read the First Aliyah and the Maftir of Parshat Beshalach in perfect Hebrew. We threw many, many candies, sang and danced together with him and his family. We cheered and sang in Hebrew-ושבו בנים לגבולם “Our boys have returned to their borders.”
This was truly a wonderful moment for all of us in the Ashkenazi Synagogue. We were honored to be able to celebrate with Shlomo. It was a Shabbat that will be remembered by all.