“There is no better place in the world to have a Bat Mitzvah.”

Twelve year-old Sydney Freeman of Toronto, celebrates her Bat Mitzvah at the Freeman Amphitheatre in the Jerusalem Peace Forest, which was dedicated in 1999 by her late grandfather, Zoltan “Zolie” Freeman of blessed memory.

Standing at the edge of the KKL-JNF Freeman Amphitheatre in the Jerusalem Peace Forest and gazing towards the Temple Mount on Thursday, August 23, 2018, young Sydney Freeman Wayne turned to her parents and said: “there is no better place in the world to have a Bat Mitzvah.” Sydney arrived at the site along with close family members, their Rabbi and a Torah scroll to celebrate her second Bat Mitzvah in Israel, following the first one that they held several weeks earlier in Toronto.

“The first Bat Mitzvah was nice because so many relatives and all my friends took part,” she explained, “but this place is so much more meaningful from a spiritual point of view. My brother Zachary celebrated his second Bar Mitzvah two years ago at the Kotel (the Western Wall), however I always knew that I wanted to celebrate here in the forest.”

The KKL-JNF Freeman Amphitheatre in the Jerusalem Peace Forest, which stands adjacent to the Sherover Promenade in Southern Jerusalem, was dedicated in 1999 by Sydney’s late grandfather Zoltan “Zolie” Freeman of blessed memory, who was a staunch supporter of Jewish life in Canada and Israel.

Against the panorama, Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich of the Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto, and the other males present put on tefillin (phylacteries) for the start of the festive Shacharitmorning prayers. The climax of the service was when the Rabbi called Sydney to the Torah to recite the blessings for the portion of the week, Ki Teitzei. Addressing Sydney, Rabbi Flanzraich said that he agreed that the place she had chosen to hold her Israel Bat Mitzvah was special in many ways. “This location in Israel, close to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, in the KKL-JNF Peace Forest, signifies many of the ideas and values that you received from your parents and grandparents. Today we read from the Torah. The word Torah means ‘teaching’, but also includes the Hebrew words for ‘parent’ and ‘mountain’.   From that, we understand that with the right ideas we can reach great heights.” The Torah reading ended with a hearty cheer from the other congregants and a beaming smile from the Bat-Mitzvah girl.

Sharon Geva of KKL-JNF’s Canadian Desk congratulated Sydney and told the guests that she was honoured to be part of this special Bat Mitzvah in this special place.  “I have been here many times before, and each time I am overwhelmed by the view and the feeling. Your grandfather’s generosity helped KKL-JNF build this amphitheater in 1999. It is in the heart of the Jerusalem Peace Forest, which was planted by our organization in 1968. He was a tremendous supporter of KKL-JNF. Sydney, you are part of a very special family and I am sure you are as proud of them as they are of you.”   Sharon presented Sydney with a gift of Shabbat candle holders on behalf of KKL-JNF. Sydney’s parents, Risa and Evan, were presented with a book of photographs of Jerusalem. Sharon then showed KKL-JNF archive photos of the Freeman family at previous KKL-JNF events at the site.

All of the Bat Mitzvah participants formed a circle and danced to the tune of Oseh Shalom – (He Who makes peace). One of the most enthusiastic dancers was Sydney’s grandmother, Yetta Freeman.  She spoke about her late husband Zoltan, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, who arrived in Montréal after the Second World War

“He had lost both his parents in Europe and was all alone. We met at my parents’ fruit and vegetable store and it was love at first sight. After our wedding in 1954, we moved to Hamilton where we raised three daughters; Risa, Cindy, and Debby. Zoltan was very involved in local Jewish affairs and was a staunch supporter of Israel. We took our first trip to Israel as soon as we could afford to go, and that was in 1967 immediately after the Six Day War. Since then, we came here regularly together with our children.”

Sydney’s father Evan Wayne continued the Zoltan-Freeman story. “My father-in-law arrived in Canada penniless and through hard labour and keen business acumen, he became a wealthy man. He retired as owner of the famous Allan Candy Company, where he started out as a floor sweeper. Zoltan donated much of his wealth to Jewish and Israeli causes, including KKL-JNF. My wife Risa and I continue the family custom of traveling to Israel with our children every other year.”

Sydney’s mother Risa Freeman Wayne, who is a family doctor in Toronto, said that her father repeatedly told his daughters that if Israel had existed at the time of the war in Europe the Holocaust would not have happened.
“My parents taught us to support Israel in every possible way. Our first trip was soon after the 1973 war.  It was an amazing experience, Dad took us to hospitals to visit wounded Israeli soldiers – an experience we never forgot. They wanted us to understand the sacrifices those young men and women were making for Israel and for us. We have all followed our parents’ example in our commitment to Israel and to our community and were are passing those values on to our children”.

While taking a break from the dancing, Sydney’s Aunt Debby Kimel told Sydney that she felt her own father’s presence at the Bat Mitzvah. “Zeidy Zolie is here watching us. He loved this spot. Whenever we were in Israel he would bring us here on Friday nights to make kiddush.” Debby went on to tell Sydney that she was certain that nothing could make her Zeidy happier that day than to watch his granddaughter celebrating her Bat Mitzvah at the Freeman Amphitheatre in Jerusalem.