Lt. Col. R. a commander in an IDF elite unit, and his wife were planning their 13-year-old twins' bar mitzvah for the Shabbat right after the horrid events of October 7. The boys studied with a rabbi and were ready to read their Torah portions, with their extended family, their grandfather and their two grandmothers, who were very much looking forward to the event.
As war broke out, on that somber Shabbat, R., the father, was called to the front lines, leaving his family, who live less than 30 km from the Gaza Strip. They had only 15 seconds to reach their safe room whenever the sirens sounded.
"The boys quickly understood that the celebration would not happen as planned, and were quite disappointed," their mother said, adding that was most hard was the fact the grandparents weren't able to attend in this situation.
On the Shabbat when the two were supposed to celebrate their bar mitzvah, R. surprised his family and arrived for a short visit to wish them mazal tov, and they had an impromptu party with pita bread and some dips, which was what they had available.
Last week, the father got a short leave from the army, and the family took a vacation in a hotel in Tel Aviv for the weekend with 50 other families of elite unit soldiers via a project named Eshet Chayil, initiated by David Hager, an ultra-Orthodox businessman from Los Angeles and other businessmen from the U.S.
"R. got a short leave, joined his family for a few hours, and planned to return to his base. On Thursday evening we heard the story from the family, and we decided to arrange an Aliya LaTorah for the boys that they deserved, in a happy atmosphere" says David Hager, who asked the father to stay until the morning of Shabbat so he could attend his sons Aliya.
On Shabbat, the two boys had their Aliya with a celebration as their parents had hoped for. There was singing and candy thrown as every Israeli child wished for. David Hager read out a personal birthday blessing to the two boys, and gave each of them a Tanach with their full name inscribed on it. He asked their father to read it with them from time to time, so they would understand what their father was fighting for, here in the State of Israel, and our historical connection to our land.
"It was a wonderful closure, the grandparents who couldn't come to the bar mitzvah now were with us during that Shabbat and joined their grandsons at their great moments. I have no words to thank the people who didn't know us, and yet arranged an event just to make us happy. They filled our hearts forever," said the mother.
David Hager added, "We heard the family's story on Thursday evening and decided we will arrange a bar mitzvah for the boys. Friday was a short day and we had to race against the clock, but when the boys had their Aliya and I saw the grandparents all excited, I understood we did well. This is our small thank you to their father in the front, fighting for us all."
For four weeks and going, David Hager and other American businessmen adopted a different IDF unit every Shabbat and hosted a group of soldiers' spouses and family in a hotel for a weekend, with activities for the children.
"Because they deserve it. These people are the salt of the earth, and they're fighting on the front lines for over a month now, while their wives are on a no less important front, caring for the wellbeing of the families at the rear. This is the least we can do to show our appreciation," he said.
First published: 18:17, 11.19.23