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To Erez, my bar mitzvah teacher 

When a vicious crowd tried so hard to disrupt your celebration at the mixed-prayer section of the Western Wall, you kept reading from the Torah

קשה לי למצוא את המילים בשביל לתאר את החוויה שלי הבוקר בעזרת ישראל (המכונה גם כתל המשפחות ו״הכתל הרפורמי״). קיוויתי שהנער המקסים, הביישן, אך נחרץ, לא ייחשף לשנאה. במקום זה, הוא זכה לעשרות ילדים ונערים עם שרקנים, צעקות, שלטים הקוראים לו נוצרי, קריאות שהוא נאצי, ועוד. נער אמריקאי שרצה לחגוג את הגיעו לגיל מצוות. נער שיכול לשכוח כל קשר לעם ישראל ולארץ ישראל, אך בחר לעלות לתורה בארץ. בנוכחות הוריו, סבא וסבתא, וקצת משפחה. והנער היה מדהים. קרה יפה, ולא טעה באף הגיה אחת, על אף ההפרעות. אני, לעומת זאת, שבור. יש אנשים ששונאים אותי. שמוכנים לפגוע בי. כי היהדות שלי היא שונה מהיהדות שלהם. רוב האנשים, דתיים או שמרניים ככל שיהיו, אינם ככה. אבל יש כאלה. ואם אלה המתנגדים אליהם, אלה המאמינים שלכל הפחות יש לנו את הזכות לטעות, אם אלה לא ירימו את קולם, כולנו נפסיד.

Posted by Arie Hasit on Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Dear Erez, today you became my bar mitzvah teacher. Of course, you didn’t prepare me when I became a bar mitzvah. I did that long before you were born. But today, as you celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah, you taught me so much. 

Your parents and I all knew that today would not be a typical ceremony at Ezrat Israel, the mixed-prayer section of the Western Wall where you read from the Torah so beautifully. I was hoping that at worst we would hear some whistles from the Kotel Plaza, knowing that a number of boys and girls try to prevent the Women of the Wall from praying together in the women’s section. What we did not know was that your bar mitzvah celebration would have dozens of uninvited guests: young boys, some younger and some older than you, who wanted to do everything they could to prevent you from having a dignified service. 

But you, Erez, you were the definition of dignity this morning. You read each of your four aliyot with calm and composure. The smile never left your face. You read every word, every syllable, with grace. It would be impossible to know that there were so many people deliberately trying to ruin your morning, but you absolutely would not let them. 

Erez, the fact that you, like your older siblings before you, could learn to read Torah and celebrate this milestone was not a given. Your father was born in the Soviet Union, and at his birth, your grandparents could have never dreamed that one day they would be standing next to their grandson at the Western Wall. Your mother grew up in the United States, and while she did not face a regime trying to wipe out Judaism, she had many opportunities to forgo her Jewish identity and assimilate into American secular culture. But instead, here you are. Standing where millions of Jews had only dreamed about, determined to chant your Torah portion as if the whole world were stopping to hear you read. 

Erez, you knew you were embarking on an adventure when you and your family chose to come to Israel to celebrate your entrance into Jewish adulthood — with all of its privileges and responsibilities. Nobody could have ever imagined that your first act as a Jewish adult would be to demonstrate such amazing restraint and calm in the face of a vicious crowd. I am sure that I speak for your family, your friends, and all of the people who gathered today at the Wall in order to pray and celebrate their Judaism: you are an inspiration. You taught us all how to approach life every day with a positive attitude, you taught us resilience, and you taught us that we never give up, no matter how hard others are making our life. Thank you. 

About the Author
Arie Hasit is a Masorti (Conservative) rabbi living in Mazkeret Batya where he is committed to community building, to religious pluralism, and to making space for multiple ways of connecting to our tradition and our people, including through the traditional, egalitarian Judaism where he feels most comfortable.
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