Arctic Barmitzvahs

February 4, 2013 by Benjamin Rutland
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The Jerusalem-based Jewish Agency has organised Barmitzvahs and Batmitzvahs for one of the world’s most northerly communities.

Benjy Rutland

Benjy Rutland

Last month, the Jewish Agency for Israel organized for seven young Jews to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvah’s in one of the northernmost Jewish communities in the world in the city of Murnmask, Russia (the largest city north of the Arctic Circle).  The Jewish community in Murnmask is twinned with Beth Israel- the West Temple in Cleveland, USA and the event was organized with the support of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

The small Jewish community of Murnmask numbers only a few hundred and does not have a synagogue. Jewish teenagers in the city were uncertain whether it was accepted practice to celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah once they had passed the ages of 12 or 13, but after they read in the media that the Chairperson of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky had celebrated his bar mitzvah at age 65, they asked the Jewish Agency to organize a ceremony for the city’s Jewish youth.

Jewish Agency Youth Shaliach (emissary) Sagi Rabovski travelled the 1,400km from St Petersburg to organize the ceremony. Each of the participants was presented with a copy of the Chumash (Five books of Moses). Rabovski said after the ceremony: “I feel that it is my mission to help even the smallest Jewish communities. By connecting Jews to Israel and the Jewish tradition, we can strengthen their Jewish identities.”

Murnmask suffers from bitterly cold winters and on the day of the ceremony the entrance to the Jewish Agency building in the city was heavily blocked by snow, requiring the participants to dig their way into the building.

The Jewish Agency for Israel runs Hebrew and Jewish history classes for the small Jewish population of the city.  Members of the Beth Israel- the West Temple sent gifts to the Murnmask community for Hanukah and members of the two communities regularly exchange personal updates and messages via email.

The Jewish Agency is partly funded by the United Israel Appeal in Australia.

Former Sydneysider Benjamin Rutland is Spokesperson to the Foreign and English Language Media at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem.


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