Rite of passage reaches new heights!
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Rite of passage reaches new heights!

What began as a special way of marking a bar or bat mitzvah has now become the Bnei Mitzvah Charity Challenge, an annual hike that has raised £110,000 since it began in 2017

The 2019 bnei mitzvah group just before their Snowdon climb
The 2019 bnei mitzvah group just before their Snowdon climb

Who wouldn’t want to go the extra mile for their child’s bar or bat mitzvah? For three Mill Hill parents they literally did just that and more – by organising a fundraising climb up a mountain to mark their family’s coming of age celebrations.

Keen hiker Sarah Sultman, 43, from Mill Hill, came up with the ambitious idea alongside friends Matthew and Natalie Jackson, as her daughter, Evie, approached her batmitzvah three years ago.

“I thought it would be really nice to do something for [Evie’s] batmitzvah that involved a hike or a physical challenge” explained the mother-of-three, who is a co-director of Gesher Primary School, in Willesden.

“With the Jacksons, we came up with this idea to take 30 kids celebrating their bar- and batmitzvah up a mountain and get them to either receive sponsorship or pledge to donate a percentage of their gift money to a charity of their choice”.

Sarah and Richard Sultman, with their daughter, Evie

Soon enough, what began as a loose grouping of Jewish parents evolved into the Bnei Mitzvah Charity Challenge, which has now raised more than £110,000 for a range of good causes, including Norwood, Kisharon, and Camp Simcha.

Since 2017, the trio has organised one hike every summer. The first was at Helvellyn in the Lake District, followed by two hikes to Snowdonia.

On their inaugural trip, Evie, who attends Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls in Elstree, raised funds for charity 4ocean, which aims to help clear plastic pollution from oceans and coastlines.

Matthew and Natalie Jackson
The eager participants before beginning their climb up Mount Snowden, 2018

Over three years, 84 young hikers have taken part and brought a parent along with them.

“It was the weekend that had everything: stunning views, great company, delicious food, fun walks, parent-child bonding and tens of thousands of pounds raised for charities” said parent Simon Bernholt of his recent trip.

Sarah also recalls “a really special Friday night experience”, following a challenging “six or seven hour-long hike” on the first day.

“Every child stands up and tells us what charity they’re raising for and why.

“It’s really moving, because there are obviously some children who have been really touched by an experience in their life.

“We had a girl raising for Great Ormond Street last year, because they saved her life as a baby. She was there for the first six months when she was born.”

Everyone then takes a break from hiking on the second day, during Shabbat. “We bring lots of games, and we encourage no mobile phones or electronic equipment”.

Youngsters from this year’s fundraising climb up Mount Snowden

During the hikes, “fun and comradery” is the prevailing spirit, with kids and parents bonding with each other as they journey and rock scramble the mountains together.

“What makes us special is that we tell the children they can raise money for whatever means something to them. I think that’s part of coming of age, that you give the children the option to think about what causes are close to their heart”.

Although journey costs are generally paid for by parents, two bursary places are available for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. All food provided is kosher, and three additional volunteers, all scouts, do the cooking on site.

If you’d like to get in touch with the group about next year’s trip, you can contact them via email at: bneimitzvahcc@gmail.com or Facebook: BneiMitzvahCC

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