6’8″ Israeli Basketball Player Becomes Bar Mitzvah

Although I love playing basketball with campers and staff when I visit Ramah camps, I was less than thrilled to be guarding a 6’8″ new Israeli sports counselor at Ramah Canada during June staff training week. Needless to say, he scored at will. Little did I realize that a few weeks later I would be attending his bar mitzvah ceremony!

I have attended many bar and bat mitzvah celebrations at Ramah camps over the last 20 years, some more unusual and inspiring than others. In recent years, I have attended the bnot mitzvah of a number of Israeli women, members of our mishlachat, who decide to have an aliyah to the Torah for the first time in their lives, either because they come from Orthodox backgrounds where this is prohibited, or from secular backgrounds where this was never considered.

I have attended the bnai mitzvah celebrations of teens with special needs who have had a hard time finding supportive synagogue communities outside of Ramah. And I have attended ceremonies for young women who belong to modern Orthodox shuls but personally believe in egalitarianism.

Guy Levitsky with Ramah Canada campers

On a Shabbat in July, when I was back at Ramah Canada, I attended another inspiring bar mitzvah.  Guy Levitsky is a 6’8″ basketball player in Israel who came to teach sports and Zionism at camp after finishing his Israeli army service. His non-Jewish parents emigrated to Israel from Odessa, Ukraine, so that they could both play on professional Israeli basketball teams. They stayed in Israel, and their son, Guy, enlisted in the IDF, where he was converted to Judaism a few months ago. (His sister also plays professional ball in Israel!)

Upon completing his army service, Guy came to camp this summer as a shaliach. Upon experiencing the inspiring religious Jewish environment in camp, he decided to learn how to recite an aliyah and how to read Torah. At a beautiful mincha service this past Shabbat, Guy become a bar mitzvah in front of a large group of campers and staff at the magnificent outdoor synagogue overlooking the lake.

Perhaps most inspiring was watching the entire mishlachat of approximately 20 young Israelis sing and dance with Guy and throw him joyously into the air, surrounded by dozens of North American campers and staff. Everyone was so “proud” of Guy and the inspiration was contagious. Celebrations continued as his 15-year-old Magshimim campers and other staff hosted parties throughout Shabbat and Sunday.

“Guy had come for his Jerusalem interview for this job at camp back in February, on the very day he immersed in the mikveh to complete his conversion,” according to Assistant Director Ariella Moss. “To Guy, this was very symbolic.”

I watched Guy teach a group of teenage girls basketball drills Sunday morning (see photo). During a break, he told me, “Coming to Ramah really helped inspire me Jewishly. Although I converted, I hadn’t realized how beautiful Jewish ritual could be until I experienced this community at Camp Ramah. That’s why I decided to celebrate my bar mitzvah here.”

Dr. Ron Polster, Director, takes great pride in the important work of the Israeli mishlachat at camp. “Just as important,” he stated, “is the impact of camp on these terrific young adults who will return to Israel with enhanced Jewish feelings and a deeper respect for pluralism.”

I look forward to hearing about many more bar and bat mitzvah celebrations at Ramah camps, and maybe one day seeing Guy Levitsky as a star of the Israeli Basketball Association.

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