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The Holiday of Shavuot, celebrated this year from May 14-16, is such a perfect one for us Bat Mitzvah girls. Just as we celebrate accepting our responsibilities as Jews, our ancestors at Mt. Sinai joyfully took upon themselves the same commandments with the statement, “Naasah V’Nishama! - We shall do and we shall hear!” 

In fact, the two occasions are so connected that the first Bat Mitzvah ceremonies ever were said to have been held on Shavuot. Isaac Pardo was the Rabbi of Verona, Italy in the 19th century, and the earliest bat mitzvah was attributed to his synagogue there.

In Pardo’s synagogue, the Bat Mitzvah was a communal ceremony, held for all the girls who turned 12 during the course of the following year. According to Aliza Lavie, author of the new book: Women's Customs: A Journey of Jewish Customs, Rituals, Prayers and Stories, “The girls wore white and entered the men's section of the synagogue during the procession; accompanied by a choir ... The rabbi blessed them.” The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) was also sung to teach the girls about the strong female Jewish role-model, the only woman judge and prophetess, Devorah.


PictureSheena at her 1997 bat mitzvah
And the Bat Mitzvah custom spread from there. Indeed, in my own 1997 Bat Mitzvah speech about Shavuot I connected to accepting the Torah because just as each year on Shavuot Jews are taught to re-accept the Torah upon themselves, our Bat Mitzvah date is our own personal Shavuot. 

May we continue to go beyond bat mitzvah each year...even 16 years later.

Sheena Levi
Director of Outreach
sheena@levlalev.com


 
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Will you be in Israel this Passover?  Do you know someone who will? Looking for an amazing Chol Ha’Moed activity for the whole family?

Get some great scenic exercise, and help disadvantaged young women at the same time!

We hope you will take advantage of an amazing new opportunity to raise funds for Lev LaLev – while touring Israel and having the time of your life with your friends and family.

Our partner Cycle for Unity (www.cycleforunity.org) has organized two amazing Chol HaMoed cycling adventures:

Cycling Adventure #1: Blaze the Burma Road – Thursday, March 28

Cycling Adventure #2: No Place Like Northern Israel – Sunday, March 31

What makes this family activity different from all other family activities? Riders can raise funds for Lev LaLev with every kilometer they ride! 

Space is limited and reservations must be made in advance, so be sure to register today: http://cycleforunity.org/apply/


 
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In 3 short weeks we will be celebrating Rosh Hashana. Please help us make it a great year for the Lev LaLev orphans!

Every year, Lev LaLev sells beautiful hand-drawn cards to help spread joy for the upcoming Jewish New Year. All proceeds go to benefit the Orphanage in Israel. 


And YOU can help!

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Email or Print out this special flyer and share it with your family, friends, in your home community, synagogues, schools, the JCC, etc.

Send me a picture (email: sheena@levlalev.com) of you next to flyers you posted and get 5 free Rosh Hashana cards with your own order from www.levlalev.com/rhcards  



Thanks for being such awesome Beyond Bat Mitzvah ladies! 

 
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On May 20th, Sarina Hilowitz of Savannah, Georgia will be celebrating her Bat Mitzvah, which she is twinning with one of our girls at the Rubin-Zeffren Children's Home in Netanya, Israel. The sponsorship is in memory of her Zeyde whose life story is truly inspirational and miraculous.

In honor of today's Yom HaZikaron - Remembrance Day for those who fought for Israel's freedom, Sarina's father shares his fathers amazing story with us.

                                                   ...

My dad, Max Hilowitz Z'L , was taken to a work camp, Plasow, at the approx age of 16.

This was the camp where the notorious Amon Goeth was the commandant. It was also the camp where Oscar Schindler saved close to 1,2OO Jews.

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Jewish women at forced labor in the Plaszow labor camp.
Inmates were constantly worked hard, tortured and killed.

One day my dad was told by a Nazi guard to run an errand and come right back. He returned and was told to stand on a chair. A rope was put around his neck and he was asked what he wanted to say before he was to be hanged. My dad said the Shemah.
The Nazi kicked the chair and my dad miraculously fell to the ground. The rope broke. He was told to go back to his barracks. By coincidence, I had the opportunity to examine a patient who was at the Plasow work camp from the day it was built. He told me if ever something went wrong with a hanging the inmate was hanged again. 

Years ago, I asked my dad why he didn't try and make a run for it when he was told to stand on the chair. At that point I told him "You had nothing to lose by trying and escape". He told me that he had no will to live. He had lost most of his family during the Holocaust. Hashem saved my father. My dad had many more good things to do for klal Yisroel.

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Max Hilowitz, Holocaust survivor, while in the Israel Defense Force
He had the opportunity to take revenge on the Nazis multiple times by the end of the war, then volunteer for the Israeli Defense Forces in 1948. In that year on Yom Kippur he pulled his friend to safety after his friend was shot and lying in the battlefield under a barrage of Syrian gunfire. My dad ran onto the battlefield under heavy fire and put his friend on his shoulder and made it to shelter. 

Last year when my father's platoon sergeant from the 1948 war, came to pay a shiva call for my father, the first thing he said was " your father saved Shmilicks's life".

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Max's son Jeff with his daughter, and Lev LaLev Bat Mitzvah girl, Sarina
With all that my father survived and accomplished he was very well liked by all, from his name Meir in Hebrew, he gave off light to all that met him. He is survived by two sons, and three grandchildren, Joshua, Sarina and Ava. He was a wonderful man. We all miss him so much.

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This year, when you are at the seder I want you to think about Moses. As an infant, Moses was smuggled into the Nile River to protect him from the decree sentencing all male Jewish babies to death. He was saved by an Egyptian princess and raised in the palace before he eventually found his way back to his people.
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Irena Sendler; image credit: www.thejcconline.com
Thinking of this I am reminded of the story of Irena Sendler.

Irena was a Polish Catholic social worker who served in the Polish Underground and the Zegota (the Council to Aid Jews) resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II. 

Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. In this manner, Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children, providing them with false documents, and sheltering them in individual and group children's homes outside the Ghetto.

She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. Żegota assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives. However, after the war, almost all of their parents had been killed at or had otherwise gone missing.  


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Jewish survivors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp, some still in their camp clothing, stand on the deck of the refugee immigration ship Mataroa, on July 15, 1945 at Haifa port, during the British Mandate of Palestine, in what would later become the State of Israel. (Zoltan Kluger/GPO via Getty Images)
This April we celebrate G-d bringing the Jews out of slavery in Egypt on Pesach (April 6-14), commemorate those lost in the Holocaust (Yom Ha’Shoah – April 19), as well as celebrate the founding of the State of Israel (Yom Ha’azmaut – April 26). 

So, this year, let us reflect on the story of the Jews in Egypt and how it correlates to Jewish persecution throughout history, the Holocaust and the subsequent founding of the State of Israel. 

What connections do you find? (Hint: look at the way the Jews of Egypt were ghettoized in Goshen before they became slaves.)  Please share your insights in a comment below. I look forward to seeing what you find and learning something new!

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Wishing you and your family a Chag Kasher V'Sameach! 


Sheena Levi 

Lev LaLev Director of Development 

Article originally featured in the April edition of the Beyond Bat Mitzvah BBMessenger monthly E-Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter.
 
As we approach the joyous holiday of Purim, celebrated this year from the evening of March 7th-8th, I have been reflecting on the holiday as my first year celebrating it with Lev LaLev. And I noticed something about the holiday story that before seemed like just a small footnote to me.



The story of Esther, which we read on Purim, takes place in Persia at a time when many Jews were living in exile within the Persian Empire, which at the time covered much of the Middle East, from India to Egypt to the borders of Greece.

It is taught that when Esther was still young, both her father and mother passed away. Her older relative Mordechai adopted her into his family and raised her as his own. They shared a deep and trusting relationship. Mordechai continued to advise Esther even after she was crowned Persia’s Queen, including the advice to conceal her true Jewish heritage in the Palace.

The Hebrew word ”astir” means “concealment” and is spelled almost exactly the same as Esther’s name. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, which translates to ‘Myrtle’. Myrtle plants release their fragrance when they are crushed. Esther’s true strength came out while she and the Jewish people were in the direst of situations.

When Mordechai brings the Prime Minister Haman’s evil plot to eradicate all the Jewish people living in the Empire to Esther’s attention, she tells him is that if she goes to see the King without being asked of, he could have her killed.

So Esther puts her faith in G-d and asks Mordechai to have the Jews of Persia fast and pray for her for three days (to commemorate this fast, we refrain from food and drink until sundown on March 7th this year); then she will go to the king. ‘And if I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:16).

The Tikunei Zohar, explaining that Yom Ha KiPURIM, Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement, literally means “a day like Purim”, and point out striking parallels between Esther’s approach to the King Achashverus and the High Priest’s service in the Temple on Yom Kippur: the fasting Queen Esther, dressed in special garments, entered the King’s inner chamber at the risk of her life in order to bring salvation to the Jewish people and the fasting High Priest, dressed in special white vestments, entered the normally off-limits inner sanctum of the Temple also at the risk of his life to pray for the people’s forgiveness (Tikun 21).

We learn from Esther a complete trust in G-d, courage, and wisdom. Esther risked her life but trusted G-d’s will. And she merited that through her G-d saved her people from destruction.

This year, I also now think of Esther as a disadvantaged orphan girl who never knew her parents. I see her face in the young women of The Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home whom we help on a daily basis. I feel connected to Mordechai who took her in and cared for her like one of his own, guiding her to adulthood and beyond. I imagine that Esther must have felt so alone when she was forced to go to the palace and marry the King. It has helped me feel even more for our girls and the strength they must find within themselves to stay strong and committed, to grow past the trauma of their youths, to find faith in themselves, others and G-d.

I believe so strongly that, just like Esther, our girls have so much potential and with the combination of their strength and resolve, along with all of our support and love, they too will save future generations of the Israeli and Jewish people.

G-d had a plan for Esther from the beginning. I now know from Esther that G-d has a plan for all of our lives, no matter how dark and desperate things seem. Even after the story we could ask, what became of Esther? Our sages relate that she had a son by Achashverosh. This son, Daryavesh, (Darius), would eventually order for the building of the Holy Temple to be completed, as we read in Ezra 4:24: “Then the work of the House of G-d which is in Jerusalem ceased. So it ceased until the second year of the reign of Daryavesh King of Persia.”

Behold the power of helping one Orphan girl reach her fullest potential! I am so happy to be able to celebrate Purim this year with this new perspective and hope that now you are too! Chag Purim Sameach! 

Sheena Levi

Lev LaLev Director of Outreach