Double Celebration at Congregation Kol Yakov Yehuda


Yehudis Litvak

Kol Yakov Yehuda, the junior congregation under the auspices of Congregation Levi Yitzchok of Hancock Park, celebrated the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday on the 11th of Nissan. The celebration consisted of two parts: a meaningful trip to Israel for its leaders and a Mitzvah Tank Parade for the whole community.

Congregation Kol Yakov Yehuda was founded by Rabbi Mendel Duchman, who remains its spiritual leader and the only adult present during services. Everything else, as its motto proclaims, is done “for the kids by the kids.” Each year, the children elect a presidium, consisting of a president, a vice-president, and a secretary of state. The presidium members sit at the front of the shul and conduct the services. At the end of the school year, a raffle is conducted, and one of the children wins an exciting trip.

This year, Congregation Kol Yakov Yehuda celebrates its “Bar Mitzvah” – its thirteenth year. The members of its presidium are also celebrating their own Bar Mitzvahs. In honor of the Bar Mitzvahs, Rabbi Duchman took all three of the presidium members on a special trip to Eretz Yisrael, where they participated in a group Bar Mitzvah celebration for Israeli orphan boys. The Bar Mitzvah celebration, held at the Kosel, is organized every year by Colel Chabad and attended by Israeli chief rabbis, government officials, and other dignitaries.

The Kol Yakov Yehuda presidium – Levi Cohen, Yechezkel Pinson, and Mendel Raeburn – enjoyed a packed itinerary throughout their stay in Israel. They arrived on Thursday night, April 12th, and went to Chevron and then to Kever Rachel, where they had an opportunity to daven at the kevarim of our avos and imahos. They then went to Yerushalayim, where they also visited the grave of Chaya Shpalter, a member of Kol Yakov Yehuda who passed away last year. On Friday, the boys toured Yerushalayim with a special focus on places mentioned in Tanach. Seeing with their own eyes the places they learned about was very powerful for the boys. They also visited over twelve shuls in Yerushalayim, where they observed the goings on and spoke to each of the rabbis, learning about leadership. On Friday night, the group ate their Shabbos meal at the Colel Chabad building overlooking the Kosel. There they met Rabbi Sholom Duchman, the director of Colel Chabad, and Mr. Yossi Popeck and his family, one of the sponsors of the orphan Bar Mitzvah program. On Sunday, they visited the Masada and the Dead Sea. And Monday, April 18th, was devoted to the orphan Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

The program began at the Kosel, where each of the Bar Mitzvah boys received an aliyah to the Torah. Thousands of people were in attendance as each boy was escorted to the Torah under a chupah, with musicians playing live music. The Los Angeles boys also received aliyos. There, they also met the Israeli chief rabbis.

After the ceremony, the boys attended a large reception for the orphan Bar Mitzvah boys and participated in the celebration. “They really connected to the kids,” says Rabbi Duchman. They met a boy who was born a month after his father’s passing and was named after his father. The Los Angeles boys danced together with him and brought much joy to his simcha. At the reception, the Kol Yakov Yehuda presidium presented the Bar Mitzvah boys with 150 Bar Mitzvah messages from Los Angeles, written by the members of Kol Yakov Yehuda, as well as the students of Cheder Menachem.

Throughout the trip, the boys proudly wore their Kol Yakov Yehuda medals. “They knew they were there for a mitzvah,” says Rabbi Duchman. “They are the future leaders.” Rabbi Duchman was moved by the whole experience. “Normally, children are empowered by adults,” he says, “but there, I was empowered by the children, watching how proud they were and how they took their responsibilities seriously.”

The boys and Rabbi Duchman returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, April 19th. Straight from the airport, they headed to the local celebration of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday – the Mitzvah Tank Parade. The parade, attended by approximately 300 children, consisted of a large truck and 11 RVs, all decorated with pictures of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and inspirational messages, such as, “Let’s welcome mashiach with acts of goodness and kindness!”

The event began with a rally at Cheder Menachem, attended by both girls and boys. Then the children boarded the Mitzvah Tanks and headed down La Cienega Ave. This year, in addition to its regular Mitzvah Tanks, the parade included a special Mitzvah Tank just for girls.

The parade was accompanied by over twenty police escorts. Storekeepers came out and passerby stopped to watch the parade. The Mitzvah Tanks stopped on every block and gave out matzah and pamphlets about Pesach. The parade concluded at the Ralph’s parking lot on 3rd Street and La Brea Ave. From there, the attendees split up into groups and headed to eleven different communities throughout Los Angeles, where they also distributed matzah and educational pamphlets.