Chabad on Campus International has teamed up with Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) International to launch a bar mitzvah program.
Earlier this month, five university students from the Lauder Business School in Vienna were joined by their families from Switzerland, Germany, Hungary and Ukraine as they celebrated their bar mitzvahs.
Over a seven-week period, the AEPi brothers studied the history and laws of Judaism with Rabbi Boruch Sabbach, Chabad co-director of the Jewish Heritage Center on campus.
Finally, the big day arrived. The students were called up to the Torah on a Shabbat as a crowd of sixty family members and friends cheered them on. On Sunday, they prayed in their new sets of tefillin, which were arranged by Rabbi Sabbach with the help of the Chabad on Campus International Tefillin Bank.
Magdolna Várkonyi, an 88-year-old holocaust survivor from Hungary, wept as she described how moved she was to see her first great-grandchild, Benjamin Pretzer, have a bar mitzvah.
“This program was special in that we were able to see immediately how the impact reverberated to their families as well,” said Rabbi Sabbach. “Several of the parents spoke about a new commitment to Judaism and a desire to send their younger children to Jewish Schools.”
The newly bar mitzvah-ed Peter Vandor says he wanted to learn more about his roots and reconnect with them. “We, as five Jewish students, made a huge step forward with our Jewish identity.”
Sabach was as moved as his students. “It was extraordinary to guide these five young men through this important Jewish milestone. They showed a real committment to the lessons and their questions demonstrated a seriousness about the subject and their Judaism.”
Six students have already signed up for next year’s bar mitzvah program.