MASADA — On Dec. 24, eight young people from Warren pledged their commitment to their faith and Israel in a b’nei mitzva ceremony at the ancient mountaintop fortress of Masada.
The service was among the many highlights of a 10-day tour of Israel led by Rabbi Randi Musnitsky of Temple Har Shalom in Warren. Ninety-three people attended the Dec. 19-29 trip, among them eight congregants from Temple Beth Am in Parsippany, where Musnitsky’s husband, Rabbi Ron Kaplan, is religious leader.
NJJN joined the group on Masada for the ceremony in King Herod’s western palace. With panoramic views of the Judean desert as their backdrop, the b’nei mitzva recited prayers and read from the Torah.
“In the incredible fortress of Masada, we welcome eight young people into the adult world as b’nei mitzva,” Musnitsky told the group. “In today’s Torah portion, Vayechi, we read about how Jacob blesses his 12 sons. We are the remnant of those children and those blessings.”
A majority of the mission participants were first-time visitors to Israel.
The itinerary included Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, and the Golan Heights. Eleven other young people of the Warren community also had a b’nei mitzva ceremony at the ancient synagogue at Tzippori in the Galilee.
Unlike such ceremonies back home, “there’s no hair, makeup, or DJ, and instead of arriving in a luxury car, we went up in a cable car,” Musnitsky said at Masada. “For many of the families, not really being able to picture what was going to take place here made it a leap of faith in many ways.”
Janet Braverman of Warren said the Masada ceremony, which included her daughter Elle, was “a dream come true. When I visited Israel at the age of 16, I said that one day my son or daughter would have a bar or bat mitzva here.”
Dawn and Wayne Saunders of Warren saw both of their daughters, Sydney, 12, and Samantha, 13, become b’not mitzva. “The fact that our two girls were able to experience this together at Masada was so exciting,” said the girls’ mother. “We all shared the simha together as a family with our extended temple family. It really brought Warren, NJ, to Masada and left us all with such a wonderful feeling.”
Sophie Vardi, 13, of Warren said that the trip helped bring to life the story of Masada, which she had learned about at the synagogue. “This is the first time our temple is doing a bat mitzva here, and I am proud to be among the first,” she said.
Her father, Yigal, said the ceremony conveyed a “real understanding of what Israel is all about. It will hopefully spark a desire for these young people to want to come again and support the State of Israel.”
For Har Shalom members Eileen and Allan Fink of Warren, the trip marked a different milestone; it was their 50th wedding anniversary gift. Three generations of their family were traveling together, including granddaughters Isabelle Friedman of Warren and Amanda and Ilyse Reisman of Short Hills, who were part of the b’nei mitzva ceremony at Tzippori.
“I myself became a bat mitzva at the age of 70 a year ago at Har Shalom,” Eileen Fink said. “It is very important to me that the next generation understand that this is not just some rite of passage, but rather something you would always want if you didn’t have.”
Musnitsky was leading her third trip to Israel since she took the post at Har Shalom five years ago. “It’s part of my mitzva to bring people here,” she said.
In September the rabbis’ son, Rafael, 23, made aliya and is now training to become an IDF paratrooper. He met up with his parents and their congregants on Shabbat.
The group also hosted for Shabbat three families from One Family, an organization that provides services for victims of terror and their families.
The meeting was particularly meaningful for Madison Rae Berman, 12, of Warren. Her bat mitzva project is to raise funds for a One Family girl from Ashkelon whose brother was killed in a terror attack a week before the girl’s bat mitzva.
“She sat shiva on her bat mitzva,” Madison said. “I am raising money for her to have a bat mitzva a year after her brother died.” She added that Gotham Boutique in Milburn is donating a portion of its proceeds to the fund.
Cantor Anna Berman, now in her 20th year at Har Shalom, said the b’nei mitzva ceremony on Masada included “the same Torah portion that my grandfather, my father, my sister, and I read at our own b’nei mitzva.”
Having an al fresco ceremony at Masada was “really very cool,” said Dylan Stein, 12, of Warren. “It is so exciting for me to transform from a girl to a Jewish woman in such a historic place.”