29 April 2019
Jewish Care Victoria recently hosted a very special Bar Mitzvah celebration for 94-year-old Israel Olshina at Montefiore Homes.
The youngest of eight children, Mr. Olshina was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1925. His father passed away when he was just 11 years old, leaving his mother to raise her children alone. Life in Poland was precarious just before the war and, like many Holocaust survivors, a Bar Mitzvah ceremony at the age of 13 was out of the question.
When war broke out, Mr Olshina and his 16-year-old sister managed to escape to the former Soviet Union. Three of his older brothers also escaped Poland. The rest of the family, including his mother, sister, two brothers and their families, perished in the Holocaust.
Whilst living in the USSR, Mr Olshina joined the Russian Army by lying about his age and served in the artillery during the Siege of Leningrad, where he was wounded and received medals for extraordinary bravery under fire.
Mr Olshina migrated to Australia after the war with his brother, Alexander, and worked hard to build a life in Australia; marrying his wife, Lily, and having two children, Emil and Anita.
After all these years, having a Bar Mitzvah was a lost dream for Mr Olshina. During a conversation with Jewish Care Support Coordinator, Tali Rotenberg, he commented that he wished he had been able to have a Bar Mitzvah. Rotenberg contacted Rabbi Yisroel Kohn at Jewish Care’s Montefiore Homes to request assistance in helping Mr Olshina fulfil this important milestone.
On 8 April 2019, Israel Olshina was finally called to the Torah, surrounded by loved ones, Elders from Montefiore Homes, and the Jewish Care community.
He also spoke of his childhood dreams of following in the footsteps of his father, who was a chazzan. Joined by Chazzan Braun and his sons, Mr Olshina led the crowd in songs sung in Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew and English. Particularly moving was his rendition of ‘My Yiddishe Momma’, which moved many to tears.
Explaining his feelings about finally having a Bar Mitzvah, Mr Olshina said, ‘Being here today is the best day of my life here in Australia.’
Jewish Care is privileged to have been able to support Mr. Olshina to have his Bar Mitzvah, which was 81 years in the making.