In Siberia, More Than 50 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

Each year in Siberia, dozens of young people celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs during a week-long JDC-supported family retreat.

The event, held this summer in Novosibirsk, is coordinated by JDC and made possible by the continued support and tireless efforts of JDC board member Elaine Berke.

The annual ceremony, held for the ninth time this summer, is “the central event in the life of the Jewish communities in Siberia and the Russian Far East,” says Boris Boguslavsky, director of JDC’s office in the region.

This year, more than 50 people from eight cities across Siberia participated.

Iliya "Eliyahu" Kazakov, of Kemerovo, Russia, said he considers the ceremony to be his "spiritual passport" to the global Jewish people.

"In Russia, the age of 13 doesn't mean anything but thanks to this program and the rite of passage of a bar mitzvah, it is a big deal. For us it's not just a ceremony. It's something bigger than one week or one day -- it’s something that will be with us forever," the 15-year-old said. "It’s a dream come true."

Darina "Leora" Valento, another 15-year-old from Kemerovo, said her bat mitzvah has "piqued" her interest in furthering her connection to her Jewish heritage, changing her in ways she's not yet able to fully process.

"I've changed my point of view about being Jewish. I can't really explain it right now since I'm still digesting it all but something inside me is definitely different," she said. "As soon as I heard some Hebrew words, I wanted to hear and learn the language. I've met so many wonderful people that I'll be friends with for a lifetime."

For 100 years, JDC has operated off the Talmudic principle of "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la zeh" -- that all Jews are responsible for one another.

For Robert "Ronen” Sherbakov of Novosibirsk, that's something that resonates deeply.

"Having completed my bar mitzvah, I want to further my knowledge of Hebrew, Israel, and Jewish values. I really enjoyed the ceremony and the fact that I learned Jewish prayers," the 13-year-old said. "Being Jewish gives me a special type of responsibility, and I don't take that lightly."

To learn more about JDC's work in the former Soviet Union: http://www.jdc.org/where-we-work/former-soviet-union/

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