Londoners have belated bar mitzvahs at emotional Kotel ceremony

Gar Davies and David Ben Alon celebrate with a crowd of 250 Progressive Jews from 50 countries


In an emotional ceremony at the Western Wall, two adult members of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue St John’s Wood celebrated their bar mitzvahs during the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s Connections conference.

Gar Davies is a convert to Judaism; David Ben Alon was raised in a Jewish family in Chile but with no strong Jewish community around him, did not have a bar mitzvah at 13.

Their ceremony in the Kotel’s egalitarian section — witnessed by more than 250 Progressive Jews from 50 countries — also incorporated the belated bar and bat mitzvahs of Brazilians Jorge Crestani, Jerusa Fontana and Andre Liberman, Victor Gonzales from Guatemala and Eszter Hegyi from Hungary.

Davies reflected that “it was here that I came for the first time a decade ago, completely secular and felt a connection to the spiritually transformative energy of the city and the ancient stones at the Kotel.

“Ten years on, this egalitarian ceremony represents the interaction between tradition and modernity and this, for me, underpins what it means to be a Progressive Jew.”

Having found out about the Jerusalem conference six months ago, “I decided to go for it. It seemed like a lovely thing to do, especially next to the Kotel.

“It was moving being together as a worldwide group and it was very emotional for all seven of us.”

He added that he had visited synagogues and communities in many countries. “It’s been a great way of meeting people, making new friends and having new meaningful moments — such as this.”

Davies will have a further bar mitzvah ceremony at LJS later this month.

Ben Alon said that “to be in Jerusalem, surrounded by friends and colleagues of different genders and backgrounds, all recognising an integral part of their Judaism and personal identities, is a confirmation of the continuity and beauty of the historical and religious progress of our people.”

The British celebrants were supported by LJS rabbi Igor Zinkov, as well as WUPJ president Rabbi Sergio Bergman and its director of education and leadership development, Rabbi Stacey Blank.

Rabbi Zinkov, who brought a group of young adults from LJS, told the JC that he had come away “filled with a sense of pride.

“Seeing your students make a conscious choice to do something very meaningful to them, especially in such a symbolic place, is a real achievement. Israel is currently divided and the idea of the egalitarian part of the Western Wall, where we held this service, is something I believe reflects the true vision of Israel — somewhere where everyone can be together.”

With a four-day programme, Connections was WUPJ’s first major in-person gathering since the pandemic.

Held at the movement’s newly-renovated Beit Shmuel base, it featured sessions, discussions and outings designed to demonstrate the strength and unity of Progressive Jewry in the face of multiple challenges — “from tackling the threat to Israel’s democratic and pluralistic values to helping Jewish communities in crisis, such as those in Ukraine”.

Outgoing WUPJ chair Carole Sterling said the gathering had been like “a large, loving family reunion as we finally came back home. It felt so good to be together again.”

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