Hannah Bentow’s bat mitzvah party ended in tragedy when a gunman opened fire outside her Copenhagen synagogue, killing security guard Dan Uzan and wounding two police officers on February 14. Last night in Jerusalem, a month after the deadly incident, Bentow was given a second chance to celebrate her coming of age.
The Jerusalem celebration was the brainchild of Josh Salmon, a 38-year-old from Toronto,
who contacted Bentow’s parents after reading that Hannah had said she wished she had not had a bat mitzvah so that Uzan, the 37-year-old Jewish security guard who was killed, would still be alive. Salmon was moved by her words and offered to fly Hannah, her parents, and her two brothers to Israel for a week and throw her another party.
“I thought it was a fantastic idea, but a bit overwhelming,” Bentow told the Times of Israel. “Mom and Dad said they’d give me another party, but we didn’t know when, so this has been a really kind surprise,” she said.
Bentow was surrounded by family friends as well as strangers who came to celebrate and support her at the Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem. Salmon, who hosted the party, learned that Bentow studied for her bat mitzvah through a program offered by Matan’s Copenhagen branch and reached out to the organization. Malke Bina, Matan’s founder, invited several dozen bat mitzvah-age girls to celebrate with Bentow and her family.
Although the fateful February evening started with dinner and dancing, it ended with Bentow and her guests hiding in the synagogue basement before being evacuated by police. David Bentow, who left the party early with his young son, before the shooting occurred, recalled his niece’s poignant, prescient speech at that morning’s service: “She talked about the need to be kind to others. To be grateful and respectful. She told us how she treasured being a Dane, and a Jew.”
Here’s an excerpt from Hannah’s speech:
I’m grateful that Denmark was the country my family arrived in more than a hundred years ago. And that Sweden greeted them with open arms when they needed it most. Because my great-grandparents escaped and were welcomed in Sweden, and because my grandmother was born in Sweden, I’m alive today…
My parents raised me according to the rules and laws of Denmark and of Judaism. It’s crucial for me to have both elements in my life — the Danish and the Jewish. And it makes me very proud.
Tal Trachtman Alroy is an intern at Tablet.