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Special Program

Greek Island Bar Bat Mitzvah

Special Program
June 13 – June 18, 2024 and dates in August by appointment
 On The Greek Island Of Rhodes
For Jewish Students Of All Backgrounds and Abilities and Featuring a Specially Designed Program
For Students With Special Needs

The Aegean Sea couldn’t be more blue, the beaches couldn’t be more inviting and the history couldn’t be more dramatic. It’s an island paradise steeped in Greek tradition and Jewish heritage – it’s the island of Rhodes where the oldest synagogue in Greece welcomes your teen and your family for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah experience like none other.

Thanks to a cooperative relationship between the Jewish Community of Rhodes and Rabbi Barbara Aiello of Italy, the Kahal Shalom Synagogue will open its doors to a unique Bar and Bat Mitzvah program, which includes the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony held in the exquisitely restored, oldest synagogue in Greece.

Your Greek Jewish experience begins with a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter where synagogue member and community historian, Isaac Habib explains Jewish life in Rhodes with humor and flair. Thousands of years of Jewish history come alive as you learn of the Greek Jews’ connection to the Maccabees, the arrival of the Italian Romaniote Jews, and the influx of the Jews of Spain and how they settled in Rhodes to escape the persecution of the Inquisition.

In the Jewish museum adjacent to the synagogue, Jewish tradition in Rhodes comes to life as you view ancient ritual items such as an unusual wood and leather Megilla of Esther, delicate silver filigree rimonim (Torah crowns) and much more.

The highlight of your Jewish Greek experience is the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony itself, held in the Kahal Shalom Synagogue. Built in 1577, the synagogue is located in the Jewish Quarter (“La Judiera”) of the old walled city. Configured in the Sephardic style, the synagogue has been restored to its original splendor and is truly a Jewish treasure.

The modern pluralistic service is led by Rabbi Barbara Aiello and assisted by your son or daughter, who shares prayers, blessings and readings in English, Hebrew or Hebrew transliteration.

You can create this once in a lifetime experience for your teen and for your whole family. Working with Rabbi Barbara, whose 15 years coordinating distance learning B’nei Mitzvah makes the process uncomplicated and stress-free.

Your Bar or Bat Mitzvah in a Historic Synagogue in Greece

As your son or daughter ascends the graceful staircase leading to the antique reading table, the “bimah,” and opens the ancient Torah scroll, the moment of Bar or Bat Mitzvah could not happen in a more exquisite setting. Built in 1577 the Kahal Kadosh Shalom synagogue where your ceremony is held is the oldest in all of Greece and here on the island or Rhodes it is one of the most beautiful of the island’s historic buildings. The sanctuary is restored to its ancient Sephardic splendor and is softly lit with intricate chandeliers in a style reminiscent of Old Spain, the ancestral home of the Rhodes’ Greek Jews. Looking out from the “bimah”, which stands prominently in the center of the sanctuary, we find two marble niches where the Torah scrolls are kept.

The eastern door leads to a gorgeous pebbled courtyard, lush with greenery, where your son or daughter can lead your family in the traditional Kiddush blessings. As your teen becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in this magnificent synagogue, they, along with your entire family will feel deep sense of pride in their Jewish traditions and enjoy an historical and spiritual experience that is certain to enhance Jewish identity that will last a lifetime. After your son or daughter has done it!

When your teen ascended the bimah in the beautifully restored, oldest synagogue in Greece, she/he has accomplished what is an important milestone in Jewish life. The “Mazel Tovs!” punctuate the joy and the Kiddush wine and Greek style challah completes the experience.

Your Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Greece – A Uniquely Personal Experience

“For our oldest child we had the Bar Mitzvah in Israel – for our second child we wanted a personalized experience in a Jewish community. That’s why we chose Greece!” These parents are among several families who wanted to create the Bar or Bat Mitzvah experience within a historic synagogue, in a community whose customs and traditions would broaden their son or daughter’s Jewish identity.

“In the Shalom Synagogue on the Greek island of Rhodes, we found what we were looking for,” says Maggie, whose daughter ascended the bimah to dedicate her ceremony to a Greek young girl who never had same opportunity. “Our children study the Holocaust, “ says Art, grandfather of a Bar Mitzvah teen, “But to have the service in the very same synagogue from which these young Greek Jews were deported, personalizes our Jewish history and makes the Bar Mitzvah more meaningful. Art’s grandson not only dedicated his Bar Mitzvah to a Greek boy who died in the Holocaust, he also learned about the young man’s family and what happened to them during WWII.

Thanks to the photos, ritual objects and family treasures on display in the adjacent museum, Bar and Bat Mitzvah families come away with a deep connection to this unique community of Jews and a strong sense of personal Jewish identity.

Your Bar or Bat Mitzvah for Children with Special Needs

Rabbi Barbara Aiello is a former special educator with years of experience adapting the Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation and service to children with learning differences. While serving a Florida congregation Rabbi Barbara prepared and officiated for the first blind student in the state of Florida to become a Bar Mitzvah. She also had the honor to work with a young girl with quadriplegia who used a wheelchair and while breathing with the help of a ventilator, she whispered her Torah verses.

In Italy Rabbi Barbara welcomed three students with learning differences to Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud where two teens with autism and a young girl with Down Syndrome all had the opportunity to experience this beautiful rite of passage. In fact when one teen whose learning needs fall on the autism spectrum, concluded his reading of the transliterated Torah verse, raised his arms in victory and shouted, to the claps and cheers of the congregation, “I’m a Bar Mitzvah!”

Here is How to Get Started:
  • Select and secure your Bar Bat Mitzvah date: If you have friends or family members who want to share you date, we can welcome up to four students in your party, which can include a special needs sibling or friend as well. In addition if a parent or grandparent did not have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony in their youth, they can share in the Torah reading as well. Our travel professional, Ellen Paderson can help you plan visit to Rhodes and your family’s Greek island vacation. Click here to contact Ellen from Smiles and Miles Travel, Bar Mitzvah vacations.
  • Select a local tutor who will work with Rabbi Barbara. (We can help you find your child’s private teacher).
  • With help and guidance of the tutor and Rabbi Barbara, you teen selects from 3 to 12 Torah verses he/ she wants to read. We find that when the student decides on the verses to be read, their interest level soars!
  • Rabbi Barbara communicates directly with your tutor so that Hebrew reading is adapted to the students’ needs and abilities. The amount of Hebrew to be read and the way it is read is based upon the individual needs of the student. Every student, regardless of learning style, difference or disability, can succeed and no previous Hebrew training is required.
  • Students are encouraged to do a hands-on mitzvah project where the student shares in a “Tikkun Olam” experience to help make the world a better place. Also students are encouraged to select the name of a Greek child who, as a Holocaust victim, did not become Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The D’var Torah speech can include reference to this child.
  • Rabbi Barbara emphasizes that Interfaith and non-traditional families are warmly welcomed. Parents and grandparents of all faiths are welcome to participate on the bimah. For families who are just now introducing Jewish tradition to their children, our Bar and Bat Mitzvah program brings Judaism to life in a loving and meaningful way.