Sapir Malik, 18, one of five Rishonim — young Israeli emissaries posted to local New Jersey communities — celebrated becoming a bat mitzva on June 6 at Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield.
The ceremony was something she had never really considered in her home community of Rishon Letzion, where there are few non-Orthodox synagogues and where she grew up in a secular environment.
“After spending the year here in the community and being exposed to Reform and Conservative synagogues, I was amazed to see how special and important it is for girls to have a bat mitzva,” said Malik.
She added that she came to New Jersey as part of the Rishonim program to teach kids about Israel, “but I ended up learning so much from them.” During the service, she read Torah, and, she said, “It’s never too late to do that — even when I’m 18.”
The Rishonim program is sponsored by the Legow Family Israel Programs Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest NJ. The emissaries, who stay through the academic year, lead informal educational activities and interact as peers with students at area day schools and synagogue schools, creating a connection between local communities and Israel.
The students come as volunteers after graduating high school and before starting their mandatory army service.
Malik was feted by the Sha’arey Shalom community and the other Rishonim. IPC program director Moshe Levi supported her at the service, and her boyfriend flew in from Israel for the occasion.
It marks the first time one of the Rishonim has celebrated becoming bar or bat mitzva locally.
Cantor Amy Daniels, Sha’arey Shalom’s educational director, helped Sapir prepare. She called the young woman’s decision to celebrate “the best outcome of this type of mifgash,” the Hebrew word used for educational encounters between Israeli and American Jews.