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Coming of Age

 Coming of Age at the National Library

​Becoming a bar or bat mitzva is an emotional time, for all involved – from the child who's certain he knows it all to the doting parents who know better. Throughout the ages the ceremony has involved reciting a portion of the Torah, on which the celebrant expounds, based on lessons from the rabbi. Now courtesy of the National Library of Israel (NLI), the child can take a personal journey, creating a sort of do-it-yourself sermon on top of the traditional Torah one.

​"Today's families, whether religiously observant or not, want to bring more content to the event," explains Dror Oberman, head of educational programs at NLI. And NLI, replete with primary sources of a historical, cultural and religious nature, provides the perfect environment in which to explore a rich world of content as part of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program, inaugurated in September.  


The innovative program allows the bar/bat mitzvah child to conduct independent research from primary sources on a subject of their choice, with the help of a library-appointed guide. The project can also be an occasion for inter-generational bonding: the whole family can participate, or a grandparent can accompany the process, says Paz Abarbanel, director of the Bar/Bat Mitzva program. 
"The children discover things they never imagined about Israeli and Jewish culture through the subjects they choose," Smadar says.
The usual Bar/Bat Mitzvah program consists of nine sessions at NLI, both groups meetings and those devoted to personal study under the guidance of NLI staff, who teach the children how to search for pertinent material among the vast collections and archives. There are options for shorter programs, including a 3-week or a one-session program, as well as the possibility of school visits.  
The program can lead to unexpected places. 12-year old Avital Halperin wanted to do her project on an extraordinary person who had been largely unnoticed. She came across the story of Sarah "Surika" Braverman, who fought the Nazis behind enemy lines, alongside other Israeli heroines like Hannah Senesh (Hannah Senesh's personal archive resides at NLI), and helped found the IDF’s Women's Corps. However, material on her history was sketchy. With the help of NLI, Avital met and interviewed her new-found heroine, then aged 94, at Kibbutz Shamir in northern Israel. They arranged to meet again to flesh out the picture even more, but that second meeting was not to be. Two and a half weeks later Surika passed away, at the age of 95.
Avital, richer for her experience, is donating her own project on this extraordinary woman to NLI.