Author: Jacobs, Melissa
Date published: March 31, 2011
Some kids look at mitzvah rojects as requirements. 'Others look at them as opportunities. These kids used their projects to express their values, creativity and commitment to tikkun olam.
That Elianna Lopez's Jan. 12, 2011 Bat Mitzvah fell during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend was a karmic coincidence. After speaking with Rabbi Linda Holtzman at Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough, she decided to do not one, but five projects. "I knew that I wanted to help children," Lopez says, "so I started with Main Line Arts Center" in Haverford.
Lopez worked with autistic kids in a program at Main Line Arts Center. Then, she organized a clothing, game and book drive to benefit Philadelphia's Northern Home for Children, a safe haven for children removed from harmful family situations. The drive took place at Mishkan Shalom and Friends Central, Lopez's school.
Lopez did two other projects for Northern Home, and she incorporated them into her Bat Mitzvah party. Guests used fabric markers to decorate 50 onesies that were donated to Northern Home. They also created a 5foot by 2-foot mural designed by the creative team at Sweet Mabel Folk Art & Fine Craft in Narberth. Guests colored in the drawing to create the mural, which now hangs in Northern Home.
Lopez's fifth mitzvah project was a fundraiser for Steppingstone Scholars, a Manayunkbased organization that provides intensive tutoring programs that enable underprivileged kids to attend the best public and private schools. Lopez raised funds by asking people to donate to Steppingstone in lieu of giving her a gift. She raised $5,000 and donated the money in honor of her grandfather, for whom education was a core value.
Commitment to community service is something that Lopez's parents have instilled in her. "My Torah portion was about the Ten Commandments, and my rabbi said that my family should sit down and think about our Ten Commandments, but make them 10 values," Lopez says. "We decided that they are: honesty; togetherness; community; compassion; kindness; acceptance of ourselves and others; discovery; loyalty; respect; and balance. These values have formed who I am and inspire me in everything I do. And each one of them makes up the definition of what a mitzvah is."
While Lopez helped scores of people, GabrieUe Marlowe focused on helping one very special person. Marlowe became a Bat Mitzvah on March 12 at Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. For her mitzvah project, this 12-year-old reached back in time.
Ilse Lindemeyer was 12 years old when she fled Nazi Germany. Lindemeyer was part of Kindertransport, the 10,000 Jewish children whom the British accepted into England in May 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. An only achild, Lindemeyer was put on a train by herself, leaving behind her parents and grandparents. (Her parents would die on another train, a transport to Russia stopped by the Nazis, who executed the passengers. Lindemeyer's grandparents died in Auschwitz.)
Lindemeyer did not learn the fate of her family until well after the war's end. She lived in England as a teenager and young adult, later immigrating to America and coming to live in Jenkintown.
Knowing that she held a unique place in history, Lindemeyer attempted to put her life story into book form. But, years ago, a fire destroyed her work and she considered it a lost cause. Until, that is, Marlowe decided to write the book as her mitzvah project.
In interviews conducted over four months, Marlowe documented Lindemeyer's experiences. The result is I'm A Survivor, a 20-page book self-published by the Marlowe family. Copies were donated to Germantown Friends School, which Gabrielle attends; the Holocaust Oral History Archive of Gratz College; Philadelphia-area schools; public libraries; Keneseth Israel's library; and those of other synagogues.
"Learning about Use's experiences has been shocking," Marlowe says. "She was my age when she went through this. It opened my eyes to how horrible the Holocaust really was. It's important that we learn history through stories of people who were actually there."
Marlowe had help with the historical details. Her mother Lise is a sixth-grade teacher at Elkins Park School. In 2006, Lise Marlowe was named the History Channel's "Teacher Of The Year." She was also named the 2006 Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year. Like mother, like daughter.
Or, like son. "My parents have instilled in me the fact that giving back to the community is part of our responsibility as Jews," says Bennett Decker, who became a Bar Mitzvah this past Jan. 22 at Beth Sholom in Elkins Park.
Decker did three mitzvah projects. One was a fundraiser for the Jewish Relief Agency, which provides food packages to low- income Jewish families. Decker contacted the management of Five Below, a national chain of stores that donates 10 percent of purchases to designated charities. He convinced Five Below to make JRA one of those charities for a one-month period and extend the fundraiser to eight stores, from North Jersey to Delaware.
Decker distributed the flyers to family, friends, Beth Sholom and other synagogues, the Kehillah league, and at his school, Saligman Middle School in Melrose Park. While Five Below is still tallying the totals, almost $1,000 will be donated to JRA.
Decker's two other mitzvah projects involved time, not money. He spent 10 weeks helping learning-disabled kids play soccer. Then, he spent another eight weeks coaching them on basketball. "Yes, it was a lot of time, but, really, it was not that much work for me, and it had a huge impact on the players," Decker says. "It's like when Dumbledore praises Harry, or when Obi- Wan teaches Luke, or Gandalf helps Frodo. That's how those kids looked up to me, and I was just teaching them to play sports. It's great for them, and great for me."
Alison Bovarnick, who will become a Bat Mitzvah on April 16 at Adath Israel in Merion Station, also spent time helping kids. She spent a few Saturdays at Ivy Hill Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Perkasie, teaching children with Down Syndrome how to ride horses. "It's fun for the kids, but I think it's empowering for them, too," Bovarnick says. "I was there to guide them, but they had to do all of the work, and it's physical and mental work. They got to interact with the animals. It was great to see that."
Another mitzvah kid made a mitzvah project out of an email. Months in advance of his Feb. 26, 2011 Bar Mitzvah at Mishkan Shalom, Noah Shipley asked family and friends to pledge to do things that would reduce their collective carbon footprint.
People pledged to replace light bulbs with those that are energy-efficient, and/or not drive for a certain number of days. Using statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, Shipley calculated that 11,567 pounds of carbon dioxide were saved.
Shipley hopes that he has inspired people to make lasting changes. "My goal was to raise awareness for how humans impact the environment," he says. "We aren't always aware of the impact of our everyday lives. There are some simple things that people can do to be eco-friendly, and I hope people continue to do them. It's our planet, right?"
Melissa Jacobs is the senior editor of Special Sections.