4 Bar Mitzvahs, 7 Naming Ceremonies, Dozens of Shabbat Lights and Hundreds of New Friendships 

By Sarah Bendetsky

In preparation for Rosh Hashana, a group of Subbotnik volunteers from Melbourne headed to Sydney for its first overnight Shabbaton for the Russian Jewish community.

Held at Manly’s Novotel, the Shabbaton brought together families and singles and people of all ages and levels of religious observance. What mattered most was the mutual desire to get closer to each other and to celebrate Shabbat as one big family.

From setting up the tables together, lighting candles and engaging in heartfelt conservations with old and new friends late into the night, the Shabbat experience was warm and promising.

However, what happened during the Shabbat day surprised many.

Thanks to Chabad Double Bay Synagogue, a Torah scroll was borrowed to allow Torah reading during the Shabbat prayer service. When gabay Ariel Schabel called up the participants to the Torah reading, it turned out that four men out of the minyan never had an aliyah before.

“It’s not surprising that quite a few members of the Russian-speaking Jewish community never had a Bar Mitzvah,” said Subbotnik’s co-founder, Avi Bendetsky. “We grew up in the country where practising a Jewish lifestyle was illegal for over 70 years. You could go to jail for celebrating Yom Tovs, for teaching alef-beys… All we had were glimpses of Jewish memories shared by our parents and grandparents and authentic gefilte fish recipes, at most… It’s a miracle that we kept our identity altogether.”

A spontaneous Bar Mitzvah ceremony was organised on the spot, with lots of singing, clapping and hugging each other. And then, a question was asked whether any women were willing to receive a Jewish name while the Torah scroll was still open. Seven hands were raised including a child.

A few minutes later, more singing and clapping and crying from joy followed. Some families were lucky to mark both happy occasions – a Bar Mitzvah and a naming ceremony.

“I always wanted to have a beautiful, melodic Hebrew name that would give me meaning and would make me feel that I belonged,” said participant and volunteer Natalya Mendelevich. Thankfully, at Subbotnik’s Shabbaton, my dream came true in a spontaneous and beautiful ceremony. I got a wonderful new name, Talia, which means “dew”, and my husband had his Bar Mitzvah! I am very grateful to Subbotnik for its important initiatives that make such a difference for our community.”

Volunteer gabay and Israeli journalist, Ariel Schnabel, said, “I felt privileged to be a part of the Subbotnik Shabbaton and was amazed to witness the impact of the incredible Bar Mitzvahs and naming ceremonies. The atmosphere was welcoming, uniting and very special. I will remember this experience for a long time.”

Subbotnik thanks its major partners, Limmud FSU, Kangarusski, BAS & MORE Bookkeeping and Virtual CFO Services, and Mila’s Catering as well as our amazing community of friends and volunteers for making this Shabbaton a reality.

For more photos, click here.

For more information about Subbotnik, a grassroots organisation running events and projects for the Russian-speaking Jewish community in Australia, and to assist financially or by volunteering, please visit Subbotnik’s Facebook page, email info@subbotnik.org.au or call Sarah Bendetsky on 0468333770.