JNF Wire: 'Coming-of-Age' at JNF's B'nai Mitzvah Wall in Israel
June 23, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
'Coming-of-Age' at JNF's B'nai Mitzvah Wall in Israel
By: June Glazer
Robert and Marybeth Mandelkorn with their daughter Rachel and Max Levin at American Independence Park.
Thirteen-year-old Ft. Myers resident Rachel Mandelkorn may have had the most meaningful surprise of her life as she and her family visited Israel this past June to celebrate her birthday. The trip was Rachel’s first to the country, and while she knew something special was in store for her during this important rite of passage, she—as well as her parents, Robert and Marybeth—had no idea what it was until the morning it took place.
But the Mandelkorns’ unique story began many years before this visit. Focusing on their respective career paths, Bob and Marybeth married relatively later in life. After marrying, the couple adopted a daughter—Rachel—and turned to Bob’s sister, Judy Levin, for help arranging a baby-naming ceremony. In return for her assistance, Levin asked that when Rachel turns 12 she celebrate her Bat Mitzvah at an Orthodox synagogue, and when she turns 13 that the Mandelkorns take her to Israel.
Although Levin’s request may sound bizarre, there was a reason why it was requested. In 2006, when Max Levin—son of Judy and her husband, Bud—was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, his parents brought him to Israel to find a project that would mark his “coming-of-age.” And since Bud Levin was (and still is) a Jewish National Fund (JNF) vice president, Max was taken to JNF’s offices in Jerusalem where they looked at the Golden Books of Honor.
The books are numerous volumes that document donations made to JNF over the years, and today contain more than 200,000 inscriptions. They comprise the largest registry of names in the history of Zionism and bear testimony to the Jewish communities around the world that have been destroyed.
“One of these books contained the names of young people who, during the Holocaust, donated money in honor of their Bar Mitzvahs. When I asked my dad what happened to them, he told me they all died and that there’s nobody left to remember them. I was moved and decided that for my Bar Mitzvah project I would make sure that they were remembered,” said Max, a Los Angeles native who made aliyah in 2012, served in the Israel Defense Forces, and is now studying business at Columbia University in New York.
Max’s project led to the creation of the B’nai Mitzvah Wall of Remembrance in American Independence Park, located in the hills above the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. Shaped like a Torah scroll, the B’nai Mitzvah Wall is covered with glass tiles, each one inscribed with an honoree’s name, hometown, and Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah date, as well as the name and home country of a “twin” from the Golden Book. Max’s tile was the first, and he was twinned with Pinchas Cohen of Germany.
On the last full day of their trip in Israel, the Levins and Mandelkorns went to American Independence Park, where, in an emotional ceremony that Judy had arranged through JNF and unbeknownst to the Mandelkorns, a plaque was unveiled bearing the names of Rachel Sophia Mandelkorn of Ft. Myers and Lea Aron of Riga, Latvia.
Addressing Rachel at this special occasion, Max said: “It’s important that, as you grow up, you live your life to the maximum and the best you can, not just for you, but for Lea, too. That’s the story behind this wall. People have the chance to connect with someone from the past, and, because of that, live a more meaningful, fulfilling life.”
Rachel’s father added, “You now have the enormous responsibility to lead your life not only for yourself, but also in honor and in memory of this young lady who was never given that opportunity.”
Rachel, a smiling young lady with a bubbly personality, was uncharacteristically quiet while she absorbed the special moment. “It’s going to take awhile for this to sink in,” she said solemnly.
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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.
JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.
For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.
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