Press Releases

“Sleeping Land” Awakens to Sounds of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

Jews of All Ages Embrace their Identity in JDC-Sponsored Siberia Bar/Bat Mitzvah Project


Michael Geller / JDC Telephone: (212) 885-0838

Jamie Epstein / JDC Telephone: (212) 885-0849

For Immediate Release

This summer, 60 Jews age 12 and up from Siberia will do something their parents and grandparents never fathomed: celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs.

Since its launch in 2005, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program has enabled nearly 200 Jews of all ages to embrace a heritage they’d never known—and become the next generation of Jewish leaders.

The first of its kind, the Bar/bat Mitzvah program includes lectures, games, singing, prayer study, discussions and— of course—a ceremony. Two Rabbinical Students from American Jewish University (AJU formerly UJ) in Los Angeles and a trainer from the Ukraine will lead the sessions.

This year’s program will be held July 16-20 in Ulan-Ude, Siberia, and welcome children and adults from Krasnoyark, Chita, Irkutsk and Barnaul. Nine of the adults being Bat Mitzvahed are “mothers of Israeli soldiers”— women whose children made Aliyah to Israel.

For many Jews from the very far regions of Russia, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program is their only exposure to Judaism. Banished Jews established communities 140 years ago in “Siberia”—which stems from the Tatar word for “sleeping land.” Judaism flourished until the revolution in 1917.

“I am certain that every Jewish child all over the entire world should have Jewish education, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and a Jewish wedding,” said Elaine Berke, the JDC Board member from California who initiated the program after visiting the region in 2003. Berke began raising funds after learning that no such ceremonies were permitted under communist rule.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program is one example of JDC’s oNGOing commitment to providing creative, pluralistic environments in which to celebrate Judaism. It also allows participants to unite with their fellow Jews and learn about their heritage.

“I want my bonds with the Jewish community to grow stronger day by day,” said one teenage participant. “I have been a consumer of the services that the Jewish community has been providing to me. Now I want to—and can—help,” he said.

The JDC opened its first office in Siberia in 1998, to coordinate welfare and Jewish renewal activities in 18 Jewish communities and for the estimated 70,000 Jews across the vast territory.

About JDC

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization. JDC works in more than 70 countries and in Israel to alleviate hunger and hardship, rescue Jews in danger, create lasting connections to Jewish life, and provide immediate relief and long-term development support for victims of natural and man-made disasters.

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