According to Jewish law, children are not obligated to observe the Torah’s commandments until they reach the “age of accountability.” At the age of 13, a boy will study with a mentor and then participate in a service where he reads from the Torah in Hebrew and delivers a speech that usually contains a lesson from our prophets and a show of gratitude toward his mentor, family and close friends. The service is called a bar mitzvah. For a girl, a bat mitzvah is held when she is 12.
Born and raised in Israel, I celebrated my bar mitzvah in February 1980 at the Kippah Synagogue, which was built in 1970 in the neighborhood of Hei in Be’er Sheva. Be’er Sheva is the capital of the Negev and according to the Bible, its wells were dug by Abraham and Isaac.
My two sons, Gahl and Neev, were born in the United States in California. Therefore, it was with great pride and honor that each was able to celebrate his bar mitzvah in Israel.
In 2014, Gahl chose an old synagogue (first century BCE) located on a lone, isolated, ancient Judean desert fort on a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea in Masada.
This year, our younger son, Neev, chose a fifth century synagogue in Zippori, the old capital of Galilee, where the Mishnah (an oral history of the Torah) was completed by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. It was also one of the places that hosted the famed Sanhedrin (rabbinical court).
Both Gahl and Neev are committed to repairing our world and spent part of the family vacation volunteering: Gahl served teens at risks through an organization called Shanti House, and Neev delivered food to hungry families through SAHI, an organization the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona helps sponsor in Kiryat Malachi.
Amir Eden is director of Tucson’s Weintraub Israel Center.