JERUSALEM (JTA) – A foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel slammed a bar mitzvah ceremony held at an Orthodox synagogue for non-Orthodox children with autism.
Sunday’s ceremony in Rehovot was presided over by an Orthodox rabbi that the nine children and their parents did not know, the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel said in a statement.
Masorti professionals who have worked with the children toward their bar mitzvahs were not informed of the ceremony, the statement said. The Torah is not read during services on Sunday by any branch of Judaism.
“What happened, in essence, is that the children, who had all volunteered to be in our program were taken to an unfamiliar synagogue, propped up and posed for a photo-op instead of given a legitimate and respectful bar mitzvah,” said Rabbi Robert Slosberg, the chairman of the Masorti Foundation.
“We were neither invited nor informed of the ceremony. In a situation where all services for children with disabilities are provided by the municipality, Mayor [Rahamim] Malul coerced these parents and their children into participating in a sham bar mitzvah and spat in the face of Masorti Judaism.”
The bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for children with disabilities has been taking place for 20 years in Rehovot under the auspices of the Masorti movement. The celebration was at first to be moved to the president’s residence in Jerusalem after Malul, the central Israeli city’s mayor, canceled the ceremony in April because it would be held at a Conservative synagogue.
The ceremony at the president’s residence was supposed to be co-officiated by one Conservative rabbi, Mike Goldstein, and one Orthodox rabbi, Benny Lau, according to Conservative officials. But an invitation sent out by the President’s Office listed only an Orthodox rabbi.
“With this group of children from Rehovot, the shameful saga and game has ended,” said Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Masorti movement in Israel. “We were hoping for a better ending, but at least the children and their parents are not left ‘hanging’ in the air. We can’t do anything more for them.”
The Masorti movement said an emergency mission to Israel is being planned that will include high-level government meetings to discuss the marginalization of the movement.