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Rivah's Bat Mitzvah atop the Great Wall of China
Photo by Keith Levit

Bat Mitzvah Rivka Keshen and Cantor Mass
Photo by Keith Levit

Cantor Mass, Zhu, Rivka, and Doug Kechen
Photo by Keith Levit

View from The Wall
Photo by Keith Levit


A Memory Making Bat Mitzvah on the Great Wall of China- Cantor Mass officiates

by Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., December 12, 2012

Cantor Anibal Mass the Chazzan at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg will long remember the day he officiated the Bat Mitzvah of Rivka Keshen this past summer at the Great Wall of China, the world’s longest man-made structure.

“My first vision of the Wall was really something to behold. It was incredibly beautiful and grand - stretching as far as I could see and it took me a long time to really grasp the enormity of the moment. The venue was spectacular,” Cantor Mass said of the Wall that stretches approximately 6,400 km in an east-west arc and took over 200 years and 200,000 people to complete.

“It was an amazing opportunity to bring a part of Shaarey Zedek’s style, tunes and spirit to that part of the world,” added Cantor Mass, who was in China for the first time.

 Originally from Kenora Ontario, the Keshen family, who are congregants of Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg, moved to Beijing about four years ago. While the family comes home every summer to Kenora, where the girls go to B'nai Brith camp their school year is spent in Beijing where they study English, Mandarin and Hebrew.

Since Doug and Zhu Keshen wanted their younger daughter Rivka to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah at the Great Wall of China, Cantor Mass arranged weekly Bat Mitzvah classes with Rivka via Skype despite the 13 hour time difference between Winnipeg and Beijing.

“Rivka led most of the Saturday evening ceremony herself. The entire service was very moving. There was a Chinese harpist and a violinist and myself on the electric piano providing musical accompaniment to sections of the service,” said Cantor Mass.

Ninety-six family members and friends who had come from Canada, USA, England, France, Israel, and Beijing participated in many aspects of the service. There was a makeshift Bimah (stage) and a Chinese designed Ark for the Torah. The Torah scroll itself was borrowed from the Kehillat Beijing, a local liberal synagogue established in 1979. Kehillat Beijing has about 30 – 40 families which include expatriates from all over the world, mainly North Americans. They do not have a permanent building location or a fulltime Rabbi. In Beijing, the only full-time clergy is at Chabad, and their Rabbi does not officiate at Bat Mitzvot.

Rivka’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony ended with her whole family leading the Havadallah service as the sun was setting over the Taihang mountians. The simcha continued with cocktails, dinner, and dancing on a special area of the wall secured for this event.

Doug Keshen has an aboriginal law practice based out of Kenora Ontario. Zhu Keshen is a Senior Advisor and Managing Director for an organization that promotes cultural exchanges. Rivka’s sister Shaindl had celebrated her Bat Mitzvah a year earlier in Jerusalem at the Western Wall.

“This Bat Mitzvah on the Great Wall was definitely history in the making and I am grateful to have been part of it,” concluded Cantor Mass.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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