JDC B'nai Mitzvah Project -
About 5,000 miles east of Moscow, in a remote part of Siberia once designated by Joseph Stalin as a new home for Russia’s Jews, young people celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs last month during a JDC-supported family retreat.
The event, held in the city of Novosibirsk, was 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.
“Elaine had her bat mitzvah ceremony when she was 60 years old, showing that age can’t be an obstacle,” he says. “With constant support from family and friends, Mrs. Berke gives children a chance to feel what she was able to go through only at 60.”
Boguslavsky said many former participants go on to become Jewish leaders in the region.
“An important factor is a link between generations,” he said. “The participants who had their bar/bat mitzvah in 2008 have become the madrichim (counselors) and the main driving force of the Jewish communities in the Far East.”
That’s true for Kirill Sakhmanov, who celebrated his bar mitzvah in Birobidzhan in 2008 and is now the Hillel director for Novosibirsk, a city of almost 1.5 million in far eastern Russia.
“After the camp in 2008, I realized that I wanted to do something for the Jewish community in my city,” he said. “This project helped us create a group of active young people for whom working for the community isn’t something forced but something that becomes the work of their lives.”
“In this camp, we are building the future of our community. This is where young Jewish leaders are born that will lead the community tomorrow,” he says. “The fire that was lit during the ceremony does not go out but goes on to shine even brighter.”