As they enthusiastically beat their drums, the children clapped their hands in unison basking in the positive energy radiating from the musicians that played at the Jerusalem Theatre on Monday afternoon.
“This is fun, first and foremost,” singer and drummer Eliran Mazuz beams after the performance. “But most importantly, it’s not obvious to everyone that these kids need attention and care. Being here with these kids warms the heart, it’s like breathing in fresh air.”
With beads of sweat dripping off his face after an intense hour of drumming and teaching the children how to drum as well, Mazuz hopes that the drum circle accomplished its prime objective: to bring people together in a celebratory way.
That, too, was the prime objective of the entire day.
The series of events, arranged by the IDF Widows and Orphans organization (IDFWO), aimed to provide 12-year-old and 13-year-old orphaned girls and boys the ultimate bar and bat Mitzva experience.
From meeting with President Reuven Rivlin and First Lady Nechama Rivlin at their home to a reception at the theater and reading from the Torah at the Western Wall, they ensured it was a substantive day spiritually and emotionally.
It was a day that was needed and well-deserved for the preteens, who all share on tragic commonality: the loss of a parent who served the country.
Yuval Israeli, for example, lost her father Rami during the Carmel Fire. As a Warden in the Israel Prison Service, her father was tasked with helping usher prisoners who were located near the fire out of harm’s way.
“I remember him smiling when he would pick me up from daycare,” Yuval said of the father she lost at five years old. “It hurts. It’s hard to explain what I feel, but I know I’ll never get over it.”
Still, she remains positive about the future and is grateful for the support network provided by the IDFWO.
As Yuval tells her story, she holds hands with her friend Ella Ram – whose father Sgt.-Maj. Elad Ram died during a rescue mission in the Second Lebanon War when she was an infant.
It is clear the two girls formed a bond because of the many events provided by the organization that encourages these children to be their own heroes and support each other when times are rough.
From their Otzma summer camps to trips both in and out of the country, IDFWO gives children and widows the tools they need to cope with their loss through every stage of life.
“We were with you as you entered first grade, enrolled in our camps and in trips abroad. We hope to be beside you while you’re under the huppa and in other future milestones in your life,” said Tami Shelach, the organization’s head, during Monday’s closing ceremony.
As someone who lost her husband during the Yom Kippur War, Shelach knows of what she speaks and is dedicated to serving others who also made the ultimate sacrifice.
A who’s who of Israel’s security establishment were also in attendance to give their thanks. Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons and Defense Attaché Col. Tony Lovett, German Ambassador Clemens von Goetze, and Defense Attaché, Col. (GS) Michael Popielas were also at the event to celebrate with the children. “You are the next generation. You will be the one protecting us. I hope you will spread our message of law and order and set an example for society,” said Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
“This is an emotional day,” Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said.
“You read significant words that have guided the Jewish world for centuries. This is both a public and personal event for you, your loss is our loss. Your father will stay beside you in whatever path you choose. “Their memory is something we will all honor,” he added.
“I saw many of these children grow up,” said Galit Ram, mother of Ella. “To see them all here today, especially the boys praying with tefillin, you see their ability to grow despite the obstacles they faced.”
This article was written in cooperation with the IDFWO.