We’ve Got It in The Bag: The Gift of a Jewish Future
Bat Mitzvah Girl Donates Gifts to New Olim from the FSU
In May 2012, her sister, Galit, along with representatives of The Jewish Agency, made a very special visit on Avital’s behalf.
In preparation for her Bat Mitzvah, Avital learned more about her Judaism and her connection with other Jews worldwide. She became inspired by the notion of ‘Kibbutz Galuyot’, the ‘Ingathering of Exiles’: “I learned about the many waves of Aliyah to Israel, starting with the Exodus from Egypt and continuing into the modern day.”
From Potomac, Maryland, Avital continues, “I was deeply moved to learn about the large Russian immigration to Israel in the 1990s, as well as the Jewish community who remained in the Former Soviet Union and are now living as Jews after being denied their Jewish heritage for so many years.”
Thus inspired, as one of her first mitzvot as a young Jewish woman, Avital embarked on a special Bat Mitzvah Project: She asked guests attending her Bat Mitzvah party to participate in her project by bringing particular items that she feels are emblematic of living a Jewish life – in order to share them with the Jews in the FSU.
On Lag BaOmer 2012, via The Jewish Agency, 70 bags with the items donated by Avital and her family, as well as her guests, were delivered to Jews from the FSU. These young people were in Israel receiving training to be counsellors at camps this summer. This year, The Jewish Agency will 60 camps run in 14 locations across the FSU – which would be impossible without the generosity of donors.
Each bag contained six items: a kippah; dreidels for Hannukah; a Kiddush cup; Shabbat candlesticks and candles – this is a mitzvah that Avital loves doing with her family each week; a haggadah – Pesach is Avital’s favorite holiday and the haggadah is the shared story of the Jews – the first telling in the narrative of “Kibbutz Galuyot”; and an Israeli flag – as a reminder that Israel is the spiritual center of the global Jewish family.
Also in the bag was a letter from the Krifcher family, with a picture of them – parents Jocelyn and Danny, Avital, Galit, Yael, and Alon. They wrote, in Russian and English: “We are sending this gift from our Jewish family to your Jewish family. We hope that the items will enhance your Jewish lives as you celebrate our people’s beautiful traditions and customs.” At Avital’s Bat Mitzvah party, the items made up part of the table decorations. A guest at each table wrote their own letter to the Jewish recipients in the FSU and one such letter was included in each bag.
The Jewish Agency promised Avital that one of its representatives would bring the bags to young people in the FSU. The summer camp counsellors, in turn, promised that the items would be used at their camps, after which they would be given to interested individual campers to use on their Jewish journey.
When asked about the beginnings of their own journeys closer to their Jewish Peoplehood, the counsellors had moving stories to tell. Paulina, 24, grew up with her mother and grandmother. Her identity was confused with name-changes, strange facts, and places on the map that related to her grandmother’s family.
One day, her mother told her that she had Jewish heritage, adding: “To be Jewish is to bear anti-Semitism, so you do not want it.” It was only after feeling the cultural and spiritual void in life in Kiev, Ukraine, did her mother turn to The Jewish Agency with a request to enrich her daughter’s life. For her 13th birthday present, her mother sent her to a Jewish Agency summer camp. There, Paulina found young, inspired people who enjoyed working with children like her. Since discovering her Jewish roots, she has now joined their ranks as an educator. Paulina heads the Unit of Informal Jewish Education for The Jewish Agency in Kiev. She feels strongly connected to the Jewish world and to Israel, and has plans to make Aliyah after her studies.
Anastasia, 19, lives in Kiev, Ukraine. Through The Jewish Agency programs there, she heard about Taglit-Birthright. She says, “I never felt that I am a Jew.” The first time she felt connected to the Jewish world was last summer, on her Taglit-Birthright trip. She is honoured to be a counsellor at one of this year’s Jewish Agency camps – “Not to tell anyone that they must be Jewish, but to tell them that they can be Jewish.” She wants the children to know they have the opportunity to choose who they are because her own opportunity came so late in her life. “It is interesting for me to explore this world, and I now understand that this world is my world.”
Many counsellors spoke about how tough their studies are at universities in the FSU and how tight their schedules are. Their timetables are more relaxed only during the summer months – and they choose to spend this time investing in their Jewish journey by passing on what they have learned to others attending the Jewish Agency camps in the FSU, while strengthening their own connection to their Jewish heritage.
Avital’s older sister, Galit, is currently in Israel studying at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a Masa Israel Journey program, and she joined The Jewish Agency in giving Avital’s bags to the FSU counsellors. She said, “The experience was unbelievable! One hears so much about other Jewish communities around the world and one thinks: How different can it be, really? Surely our Judaism is all based on the same Torah, the same culture, the same laws? But it was so eye-opening for me to meet a counsellor who told me he is the only religious Jew in his city. Living in Israel could be so much easier for him, but if he leaves, there will be no one wearing a kippah or observing traditional Judaism in his hometown. We in the USA grow up with so many privileges we take for granted. Imagine what it’s like to be the only Jew. These counsellors take it upon themselves to make sure the next generations continue. This is a lesson also for Avital.”
Avital, just Bat Mitzvah, has reached out to other Jews of her own generation halfway across the world. The camp counsellors said that the items she donated would be used as starting points to open up discussions about Judaism in the lives of the campers.
They said it would be powerful for the children to feel that no matter where they are, they can partake in acts that other Jews around the world are observing at the same time, and this will make them feel part of the Jewish family.