by R. C. Berman - Sderot, Israel
The bar mitzvah Assaf Suissa never dared to dream of came to life, a year late.
The fourteen year old knew better than to complain to his parents when his milestone birthday went by without celebration. Serving as his parents’ legs and eyes since the age of ten has matured Assaf beyond his years.
Life in hardscrabble Sderot got harder for Assaf in 2006, when a Kassam missile launched from neighboring Gaza struck the Suissas’ home in S’derot, injuring his parents Yakov and Lilach and traumatizing young Assaf.
Prior to the attack, Mr. Suissa’s left leg had been amputated, and a second attack left Mr. Suissa’s right leg paralyzed. Because Assaf’s mother Lilach Suissa is legally blind, adult responsibilities - shopping, accompanying his father to doctors’ visits, cleaning - fall to Assaf. Assaf himself a survivor of childhood cancer spends most of his free time at home, caring for his younger brother Bar, 9.
“I hoped for a bar mitzvah, but I never expected anything huge,” he said.
A bar mitzvah boy from Boston along with a California teenager and several Canadians ensured that the Suissas finally caught a break and got a chance to go all out for Assaf’s bar mitzvah.
Plans for the bar mitzvah got rolling when Tyler Hochman, of Beverly Hills, used his bar mitzvah money to buy 300 wheelchairs for Chabad Terror Victims Project (www.ctvp.org).
“It’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else, the experience of helping someone,” Hochman told Israel’s Channel Two news when he delivered the wheelchairs in Israel. When Rabbi Yossi Swerdlov and Rabbi Menachem Kutner, the project’s associate and program directors, respectively, delivered Mr. Suissa’s wheelchair – freeing the homebound man from his cumbersome wheelchair – talk turned to the welfare of his sons.
“We always wanted to give Assaf a bar mitzvah, but we never had the money,” Mrs. Suissa told Lubavitch.com. “Every time, we would plan to do it, we would be back in the hospital. Or we would need the money for something else. Assaf understood. He said, ‘Never mind. It’s okay.’ But it never left our minds.”
The Suissas asked for help to finally grant their son “just a little” bar mitzvah. Unbeknownst to them, a family in Boston had different plans.
David and Davida, who have asked Lubavitch.com to not use their last names, were planning a family trip to Israel for their son Ezra’s bar mitzvah. “We feel very blessed with all that we have and we wanted to share and enhance another family’s simcha,” said Davida, using the Hebrew word for “joyous occasion.”
The Bostonians purchased tefillin and a new suit for Assaf. Ezra and Assaf met for the first time at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. On the its flat and broad plaza, Mr. Suissa rolled up to the bima in his new, easy to maneuver wheelchair. He recited the Torah blessings in a voice that quavered but did not break and embraced his son.
Then the happy crew boarded a van bound for Sderot. “It was amazing to me that a boy that never heard of me would come all the way to Sderot to help me have a bar mitzvah,” said Assaf.
One hundred of the Suissa’s guests and a DJ who spun Jewish music throughout the night partied at Chabad of Sderot, one of the few halls in the area that is fully wheelchair accessible.
A thick metal door bars entrance to Chabad of Sderot’s social hall. Framed in blast-proof concrete, the high ceilinged space is ventilated with an in-room air conditioning system and transforms into a community bomb shelter. Before the bar mitzvah a Jewish group from Canada spent the day sprucing up the hall with a fresh coat of paint.
Mr. Suissa spun his new wheelchair, popping wheelies and beaming at his son. A measure of the celebration’s emotional high could be seen on the faces of the waiters. The servers hoisted both bar mitzvah boys on their shoulders and danced with the guests between courses.
The bar mitzvah gave Assaf the courage to dream again. “One day, I want to find a good job and help my parents because I cannot repay all they have done for me, and then I want to help people who cannot help themselves.”