Slice of Life

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On May 14, 1948, Zionist leader Arieh Handler was invited to a secret ceremony in war-torn Tel Aviv to observe the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. At his death in 2011, Handler held the distinction of being the last surviving witness of this historic event. Recently, Arieh’s great-grandson Joel Handler of Manchester, England, came to the 70-year-old State of Israel to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah with generosity and love by “twinning” the occasion with a needy student from Boys Town Jerusalem.

“It was always clear that Joel’s Bar Mitzvah would be held in Israel. The question was how to combine it with acts of chesed (kindness),” his mother Ziona explained. Inspired by patriarch Arieh Handler, a former Vice President of British Friends of Boys Town Jerusalem, the family found a very worthy cause to support: Efraim, a 7th grade Boys Town student from a desperately poor family, had no hope of ever celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, just two weeks apart from Joel’s.

With boundless enthusiasm, Joel Handler and family took on the challenge of funding a Bar Mitzvah for Efraim. Explaining to his classmates in the Yavneh School, hundreds of students supported the Bar Mitzvah campaign by donating £1 each. Joel’s next target were friends and neighbors, whom he solicited by “spieling” at eight Purim parties he attended with his dad Noam. The campaign then shifted to Israel, where 26 members of Joel’s extended family travelled to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. With Joel at the lead, a number of them ran in the challenging Jerusalem Marathon to raise an additional £2200.

Two days later, Joel Handler and family made a joyful visit to Boys Town Jerusalem. Carrying gifts, they first met Joel’s “twin” Efraim in his Remedial Math class. As Joel went from desk to desk to distribute slices of Bar Mitzvah cake, he couldn’t help glancing at the worksheets—and helping his new friends solve tough math problems. Two weeks later, thanks to Joel’s generosity, Efraim celebrated a festive Bar Mitzvah at Boys Town, complete with synagogue services followed by a homemade breakfast for the entire class and go-carting at a nearby amusement area.

Said Joel’s grandfather Danny Handler, “I’m sure that my father Arieh would be quite impressed. He saved many children’s lives during the Holocaust, and always had a fine way of speaking with kids. Boys Town Jerusalem really touched his heart.”

With champion sprinter, math whiz and good-hearted Joel carrying the torch for the future, his family and the entire Jewish People can be very proud indeed.

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