The ORT Vilnius Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium held a Jewish rite of passage Monday as a small group of Jewish boys and girls were ushered into adulthood at a public Bar and Bat Mitzvah on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
School principal Miša Jakobas greeted an overflow audience of parents, pupils, friends and Community members, and singled out the children undergoing the ritual, saying if he could wish them one thing, it would be patience.
Lithuanian Jewish Community deputy chairwoman Maša Grodnikienė congratulated the youngsters and spoke with evident joy about a new generation of Lithuanian Jews reaching maturity. She noted it was the 100th anniversary of the birth of the famous Yiddish writer Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich whose pseudonym was Sholem Aleichem, and wished everyone peace and health.
School psychologist and Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches spoke briefly and served as translator from Hebrew to Lithuanian when needed. Hebrew teacher Yehuda Vagneris and Ruth Reches served as masters of ceremony (with the LJC’s own Žana Skudovičienė standing by to make sure everything ran smoothly) and Sholem Aleichem’s other Hebrew teacher and Yehuda’s wife, Anna Vagneris, addressed herself directly to the young people on stage, girls on one side, boys on the other. “There is this word you are dreaming of, the word is ‘freedom,’ but with freedom comes responsibility,” she explained in Lithuanian. One parent spoke from the podium with evident emotion in her voice.
The ceremony itself consisted in the young people lighting candles and wishing well for their parents, for Lithuania, for Israel and so on. They mainly did so in pairs, a girl on one side and a boy on the other, one speaking Lithuanian, the other Hebrew. When that was over there was a short slide show of pictures of the new adults as children.
The young people then performed an entire repertoire of music and comedy, including some classics and also an Israeli pop song, after which Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon delivered a parable which he said he’d come across at a different school whose name and location he wasn’t going to disclose. It seems there was a teacher at this school who was driving all the children insane because she always knew the answer to anything they asked her. One day they decided to trick her. Two boys grabbed a butterfly and one held it in his hands behind his back. They asked the teacher if she knew what was in his hands. “A butterfly,” she said. The trick was this: they would ask her if it were alive, and if she said yes, they would squish it, and if she said no, they would release it. “But is it alive or dead?” they asked her. “The answer is in your hands,” she replied. Ambassador Maimon also noted the Israeli embassy decided to celebrate Israeli independence day this year by doing charity work instead of throwing a party, because, he said, it’s better to give than to receive. He also thanked the parents present for raising their children with a Jewish identity. He then called each youth by name to come to the podium to receive a gift.
The young adults presented flower arrangements individually to their parents and teachers in the audience. They and their teachers and principal posed for a group photo on stage.
After the ceremony guests sampled sandwiches, salad, drinks and cake in the foyer.