Ethiopian Pupils get Helping Hand in Celebrating their Bat Mitzvah

With the help of the parents committee at Jerusalem’s Evelina de Rothschild School for religious girls, seven Ethiopian pupils were able to celebrate their bat mitzva on Monday. Some of the girls said that while they might have had a bat mitzva ceremony without the help of the committee, they could not have enjoyed such a lavish celebration, which included Ethiopian fare and dancing. “My father and mother don’t work. It wouldn’t have been the same without [the parents committee],” said Meron Gabriel, one of the seven girls marking her rite of passage into womanhood.The celebrations began at the Western Wall, with the girls and 100 of their classmates sitting in circles by the Wall and praying out loud in unison. After a greeting from Ethiopian Rabbi Shalom Sharon, the girls and their families were off to the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus. There, the seven bat mitzvah girls dressed in traditional Ethiopian clothes performed dances and songs, which they had been practicing for weeks, for their families and their classmates.

Mentamer Assefa, another one of the seven, said performing was her favorite part of the ceremony. Assefa, whose family moved from Ethiopia four years ago, agreed with Gabriel that her family could not have afforded a celebration quite like this one. The girls said they were enjoying themselves and that the day was very exciting. Gabriel said she really feels like a woman now, and that she felt peace with God while the group was at the Western Wall.

One of the organizers of the event, Rena Fredman Friedlander, said: “I came to this out of a deep desire to create something for people who otherwise would not have it. To help the girls feel loved and accepted and dignified, on a complete par with their peers who are having their own bat mitzvas all throughout the year.”

“I often look at the adult Ethiopians who don’t speak Hebrew and who wear their traditional clothing and think: ‘They feel like I do, that they don’t really belong here,'” said Friedlander, who is also an immigrant. “But just as I hope my daughters will feel at home here in a way that I never will, I hope their daughters will as well. Maybe this is a small step towards that.”

“Bat mitzva is a big milestone for the grade six girls,” said Dvora Gredsman, a member of the parents committee. “This is our way to connect the Ethiopian girls with the whole experience and to celebrate their culture and traditions too, along with their families.”

After an Ethiopian-style lunch, Ethiopian activist Shula Mola spoke to the students. Mola, who has lived in Israel since 1984, stressed the idea that Ethiopians must “work hard and succeed in order to have a place in Israeli society.”

She thanked the parents committee for investing so much energy in the girls’ bat mitzva celebration, but also explained the importance of the girls’ parents.

“Your parents, who might not speak Hebrew, and who might not be able to help you with your English homework, still have so many qualities like patience and respect. You must learn from them,” she told the girls.

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