Beliefnet
JERUSALEM, March 29 (AP) - Thirteen-year-old Timon Shadulini stood beside the tan slabs of rock that form the Western Wall and waited for his turn to dance with the old bearded rabbis at his bar mitzvah ceremony.

As Israel's president and chief rabbis looked on, Timon joined about 1,000 boys and girls, all immigrants from the former Soviet Union, in the traditional Jewish rite that marks the beginning of adult life.

Coming a day after a suicide bomber blew himself at a gas station, killing two teen-age seminary students, the ceremony next to Judaism's holiest site was also aimed at strengthening a jittery religious community.

``We are celebrating a bar mitzvah at a really hard time. These children are strengthening us and all of Israel,'' said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz, the overseer of the Western Wall, a remnant of the Jewish Temple compound.

The Western Wall sits below the hilltop platform that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims revere as the site of the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. Control of the site -- over which Israel currently has political sovereinty even as Palestinian Muslims maintain day-to-day control -- is one of the most contTwo young black-hatted and bearded Orthodox men played keyboard and sang lively, galloping religious songs, as rabbis danced with the children.

Shadulini, the dark-haired boy wearing a prayer shawl and a skullcap, came to Israel from Moscow a year ago and lives in the coastal city of Netanya with his father.

``Yesterday I was a child. Today I am an adult,'' he said, as he waited in line with the other boys to receive his phylacteries, small boxes containing verses of the Bible which Orthodox men bind to their heads and arms with leather straps during morning prayers. ``From now on I will put them on every single day,'' he pledged.

On the other side of a white divider sat Anastasia Sanuchni, 12, and the other girls. Six years ago she moved to Dimona, an Israeli town in the southern Negev desert, from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia.

The barrier separates sections where men and women pray, according to Orthodox Jewish tradition.

``I've been preparing for this and waiting a long time,'' said the freckle-faced girl, waiting to receive a silver candle stick to use to light candles on the Jewish Sabbath.

The mass bar mitzvah ceremony - and bat mitzvah for girls - was organized by Colel Chabad-Lubavitch, the Jerusalem office of the New York-based ultra-Orthodox Hasidic group that tries to bring secular Jews back to ritual practice.

Jerusalem's mayor, Ehud Olmert, said the ceremony at Judaism's holiest site was part of a Zionist effort to bring ``Jews to Israel and from Israel to Jerusalem.''

Colel Chabad-Lubavitch began holding the mass bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies 10 years ago, when immigrants from the former Soviet Union started coming to Israel.

Yitzhak Marton, 26, who works with Chabad in Jerusalem, said many of the children didn't have the chance to learn about Judaism, because religion was officially outlawed and traditions weakened during 70 years of Communist rule in the Soviet Union.

Marton's friend, Zalman Duchman, a 21-year-old seminary student, watched as children stretched to kiss the hands of the rabbis. He said events like the bar mitzvah are an important source of pride, especially during the renewed Palestinian-Israeli fighting, now in its seventh month.

``A lot of people are very - I don't want to use the word depressed - but, I'm afraid something along those lines,'' he said. ``What happened yesterday really brought a big fright to these children. And still they come out here to express their Jewish identity.''

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