Torontonian throws party for girl affected by terrorism

Hannah Bentow cuts her cake at her bat mitzvah party at Jerusalem’s Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies.

Philanthropist pays to bring Danish teen and her family to Israel after her bat mitzvah was interrupted by Copenhagen attack

A Danish mother whose family was sent to Jerusalem by a Toronto philanthropist to reprise her daughter’s bat mitzvah after the original party was disrupted by a Feb. 14 shooting attack outside a Copenhagen synagogue said the experience has strengthened her sense of Jewishness.

“It reinforces my Yiddishkeit,” Mette Bentow told The CJN after the family of five had returned from a week-long, all-expenses-paid trip to Israel that 33-year-old Torontonian Josh Salmon, a total stranger to them, took upon himself to arrange.

Last month, Salmon read in The Times of Israel about 12-year-old Hannah Bentow’s sense of remorse after Dan Uzan, the man standing guard outside the Copenhagen synagogue where her bat mitzvah was taking place, was shot to death by a lone, allegedly Islamist gunman.

“I read that she wished she’d never had a bat mitzvah,” Salmon said, “and I felt really bad that a kid had to feel like that… And I thought, what better place for a girl to have her bat mitzvah than Israel?”

Salmon, who owns a high-end landscape design and construction company, got in touch with the chief rabbi of Copenhagen, who connected him to the Bentows.

“I called Mette and said, ‘I’d like to send you guys to Israel, what do you think about it?’” Salmon said.

Bentow – who felt Hannah’s sense of guilt around her bat mitzvah was “a burden that’s unfair for a 12-year-old to have to carry” – was “gob-smacked by Salmon’s offer,” she said.

“Philanthropy is not a thing we’re so used to in Denmark, because we pay so much tax,” she added. “So for someone to offer such a grand gesture, we couldn’t believe it.”

Although initially hesitant because she believed any money spent should go to Uzan’s family or his memorial fund, Bentow said Salmon assured her, “We’ll do both,” so the Bentows accepted.

Salmon’s friend, the owner of the Israeli Dan Hotels chain, paid for them to stay half the week at the Dan Eilat Hotel and the other half at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel.

Salmon arranged for Hannah’s bat mitzvah to be held at the Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies in Jerusalem and connected them with an Israeli party planner, who supplied a DJ, sweet table and photo booth.

The Matan Institute’s chancellor invited her granddaughter and her friends – all around the same age as Hannah – to attend the party.

“The party was really nice, and it was so sweet of the girls who came,” Hannah said. “I almost felt like a superstar with all the attention and amazing things we got to do… I don’t even know how to thank Josh – he is the nicest person ever! I mean, who does something like this for someone they don’t know?”

 Hannah’s mother reflected: “It was so fantastic, like retribution. These terrorists think they can make us less Jewish or hide who we are, but we just took more pride in it.”

She said the trip gave her family “the break we needed” after the trauma of the Copenhagen shooting, during which they and their guests had to hide in the synagogue basement for several hours.

“I think the one who coped best was actually Hannah, and our youngest, who’s eight, probably took it the hardest. In the weeks after, he was afraid to go out in public or to school because he said he was sure someone would recognize him as a Jew and ‘kill me.’”

All three children attend a Jewish school in Copenhagen, which Bentow said is protected by barbed wire and a police presence. 

Salmon, who was unable to attend the Jerusalem bat mitzvah, said he made the gesture because “I felt we couldn’t undo what’s been done, but we could try to give Hannah a second chance.”

In addition to the party, he arranged for the Danish ambassador to Israel to take the Bentows out to lunch one afternoon, as well as for them to spend time volunteering on an army base and meeting soldiers, and for them to visit a dolphin observatory in Eilat, which has a program for children who have undergone terror attacks or sexual abuse.

Salmon said he’s passionate about supporting organizations that assist individuals with special needs and has contributed to charities such as Dani, Yachad and Chai Lifeline. 

“I’ve never met Josh,” Mette Bentow said, “and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I actually meet him…We are beyond grateful for what he and all the others did for us.”