I remember my first year in Israel, I discovered that there are many festivals, which of course, also means more days off for the children!

Most of us are familiar with Chinese festivals that often commemorate ancient heroes, ancestors, and historical events according to the Lunar Calendar. However, Israel is different; their festivals primarily revolve around the experiences of how G-d saved their nation.

What left a profound impression on me was my first experience of celebrating Purim. Purim is recorded in the Book of Esther of the Old Testament, dating back to around 475 BC during the time of King Ahasuerus of Persia. It tells the story of how the vizier Haman plotted to annihilate the Jewish people, but Queen Esther’s efforts led to their salvation. Haman’s plot backfired, he was punished, and the Jewish people were allowed to defend themselves against their enemies. Mordecai was elevated to a position of power. Mordecai and Esther established the holiday of Purim, which is still celebrated today. During Purim, the Book of Esther is read in its entirety on the evening of the holiday and the following morning.

In Israeli government schools, there is a “Costume Day” held the day before the holiday break. Students of each class performs a different dance, and parents can join in too. I remember our family participating in this event for the first time, dressed in traditional costumes. My daughter and I appeared in Qing Dynasty attire, drawing the attention of teachers and students alike, and even the principal came over to take a photo with us!

I mentioned to the principal, ” The Almighty has indeed watched over the Jewish people throughout history!” Her response surprised me: “Not only in the past, but even today, He watches over and saves us!” This was the first time a Jewish person had spoken to me so earnestly about the reality of G-d’s salvation.

In addition to this, the three most important pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Bible are Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These holidays are all linked to salvation and blessings. In Israel, each festival is marked by a strong sense of ritual, much like how we prepare for Chinese New Year. They stock up on specific foods and items for each holiday to ensure joyful celebrations.

Gradually, I’ve come to realize that Jews not only place importance on religious festivals but also infuse rituals into various aspects of their lives. From birth to death, every stage is marked by unique rituals. Consequently, each child is valued throughout their journey of growth, and the blessings of parents and elders provide a sense of warmth and belonging.

Among these milestones, one event that particularly highlights a child’s significance is their coming-of-age ceremony (“Bar/Bat Mitzvah” in Hebrew). The Hebrew phrase means “son/daughter of the commandments.” Boys celebrate it at the age of thirteen, while girls celebrate at twelve. In Messianic congregations, we often attend Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. Parents prepare extensively for this day, including compiling photos from the child’s life, sharing the story of their birth, explaining the significance of their name, recounting their growth, and offering blessings for their future. Of course, refreshments have been arranged for the guests as well. At the beginning of the ceremony, the child holds a Torah scroll and walks one or two circles among family and friends, with other children singing along. Then, the child recites a portion of the Torah, expressing their understanding of the passage. After receiving blessings from family and elders, they often perform a special presentation for the guests to enjoy.

In traditional Jewish custom, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah signifies the child’s newfound rights and responsibilities as a Jewish adult, and their commitment to following the commandments of the Torah. From that day on, they wear phylacteries (Tefillin) daily, participate in synagogue services, and have a seat within the Jewish community. This coming-of-age ceremony is a significant milestone.

Such rituals contribute to a child’s growth. When elders express gratitude for their birth and offer blessings in front of others, the child receives the support and encouragement needed to take on adult responsibilities. Being valued and surrounded by an atmosphere of love motivates them to face future challenges with confidence. It is undeniably a remarkable and beautiful thing!