Monday, July 17, 2006

Israeli girl becomes Jewish woman, but grew up early

Celebrant of bat mitzvah in Morris lived in West Bank


ROCKAWAY TWP. --Sabbath at the Chabad Center of Northwestern New Jersey marked Yardena Twito's ascension to womanhood. But the 12-year-old from Israel, who celebrated her bat mitzvah on Saturday in Rockaway Township, was forced to grow up suddenly four years ago.

On June 20, 2002, a gunman entered Itamar, an Israeli settlement south of Nablus in the Palestinian West Bank. He broke into the home of one of Yardena's neighbors and began shooting. Yosef Twito, 31, Yardena's father, a first-grade yeshiva teacher, went to help the neighbors, Rachel Shabo and her three sons.

All were killed -- victims of terrorism.

Yardena appeared aged by the event as she spoke of it in front of a congregation that gathered for the Sabbath at the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey in Rockaway Township. Yet her still-childlike voice softened at the edges in the Hebrew she spoke. Her father's memory would live on, she said. "Yardena's bat mitzvah event has given this innocent young lady a reason to smile and hope again. Just the preparations for her trip to the United States has done wonders for her," said Dr. Larry Slavin, who chaired the event.

Yardena stood beside Talya Zarbiv, 17, of Rockaway, who translated her words to English, both in front of a small crowd at the Chabad House. A low lamp fixture hung above them. Words sewn in gold Hebrew lettering were on a red cloth on the wall behind them.

Women sat on a raised level behind an opaque glass between them and the men's section in the front.

Many men stood in the front of the center, some with a prayer shawl called a tallit covering their shoulders.

All the males, except a young boy with blond hair, wore head coverings called kippot or yarmulkes. The men prayed, in singsong voices. Some swayed to the Hebrew traditional music.

Rabbi Asher Herson told the crowd about upcoming events.

A loud applause erupted at the announcement of the community's newest grandbaby.

Beyond Yardena's speech and a large meal after services, the Sabbath here was routine. The hall was well lighted with plenty of outside light. No cameras or writing utensils were used, as such things wouldn't be allowed under the Sabbath rules.

Backdrop of fighting

But things were a lot different on the other side of the globe.

Rocket attacks marked this week's Sabbath for families along Israel's border with southern Lebanon. Hundreds of rockets were launched by the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah. A woman and her 5-year-old grandson from Safed, Israel were killed in such an attack, according to published reports. '

Explosions from Israeli warplanes and gunships darkened the skies above Beirut with smoke, fire and dust as Israel continued to pound Lebanon's capital days after Hezbollah militants invaded Israel and kidnapped two soldiers. Israeli forces also continued to target the Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip in search of an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped there.

During a large meal in the basement of the Chabad House, Bob Braun, 57, of Rockaway Township defended Israel's action. He added a caveat that some of his views do not represent those of the majority of the people at the Chabad, nor of other Jews.

Braun said many family members were killed during the Holocaust.

"Russian Israeli immigrants and family members of Holocaust survivors know what the world was like without Israel," Braun said. "They know if Israel was made eight years earlier, the Holocaust would never have happened.

Navid Iqbal can be reached at (973) 428-6627 or

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