Celebrations | Brrr, its cold outside: Arctic teens mark rite of passage

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The small Jewish community of Murmansk, Russia, the largest city inside the Arctic Circle, numbers a few hundred and does not have a synagogue. But in late January, with help from the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, seven young adults in Murmansk celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs.

A bar mitzvah boy reads from the Torah in Murmansk, Russia. photo/jewish agency for israel

At first, the teens weren’t even sure it was accepted practice, since some of them are older than 13. 

But when Jewish community leaders  there learned that Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency, was planning to celebrate his bar mitzvah in late January at the age of 65, they reached out to the Jewish Agency to organize a ceremony for their youngsters.

Jewish Agency youth shaliach Sagi Rabovski traveled 870 miles from his home in St. Petersburg to run the group b’nai mitzvah ceremony. “I feel that it is my mission to help even the smallest Jewish communities,” he said. “By connecting Jews to Israel and the Jewish tradition, we can strengthen their Jewish identities.”

The Jewish Agency runs Hebrew and Jewish history classes in Murmansk, and Cleveland’s Beth Israel-The West Temple is twinned with the Jewish community there. Members of the two communities regularly exchange personal updates and messages via email.