Arctic Circle Bar Mitzvah Celebrants Shovel Their Way into Synagogue

— by Joshua Berkman

With help from The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, seven young Jewish adults in Murmansk, Russia celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs in late January.

Murmansk, the largest city inside the Arctic Circle, is one of the global Jewish family’s northernmost communities. So harsh are the winters there that the bar and bat mitzvah celebrants had to shovel through several feet of snow to access the building.

More after the jump.
The small Jewish community of Murmansk numbers only a few hundreds and does not even have a synagogue. Jewish teenagers in the city were unsure whether it was an accepted practice to celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah, since they had already passed the ages of 12 or 13. However, once they learned that the Chairperson of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, was celebrating his bar mitzvah at the ripe old age of 65, Murmansk community leaders reached out to The Jewish Agency to organize a bar mitzvah ceremony for their youngsters.

Jewish Agency Youth Shaliach (emissary) Sagi Rabovski traveled 870 miles from his home in St. Petersburg to run the group bar and bat mitzvah ceremony. The participants each recited a passage from the weekly Torah section of Bo in the book of Exodus and received a gift of the Chumash (Five books of Moses) for their bar or bat mitzvah.

“I feel that it is my mission to help even the smallest Jewish communities,” Rabovski said. “By connecting Jews to Israel and the Jewish tradition, we can strengthen their Jewish identities.”

The Jewish Agency runs Hebrew and Jewish history classes for the small Jewish population of the city. Cleveland’s Beth Israel-The West Temple is twinned with the Jewish community of Murmansk. Members of the two communities regularly exchange personal updates and messages via email.


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