A twin-win sit­u­a­tion

For a bar or bat­mitz­vah, there is a new way to get into the party spirit, says Danielle Mann

The Jewish Chronicle - JC Magazine - - Rite Way To Celebrate -

IRE­MEM­BER my bat­mitz­vah 15 years ago. A lav­ish af­fair in a boat on the Thames, filled with friends, food and en­ter­tain­ment. At the end of the evening, I dived straight into the part I’d been wait­ing for for days — open­ing all my presents! The whole thing was really quite self-cen­tred. I’d reached an im­por­tant mile­stone in my Jewish jour­ney. I was de­vel­op­ing from a lit­tle girl into a young lady — one who was sup­posed to be ac­cept­ing the adult re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of fam­ily, com­mu­nity and Jewish iden­tity — and all I could do was party!

Th­ese days, bar/bat­mitz­vah boys and girls are so aware of the im­por­tance of con­tribut­ing to their com­mu­nity and they are en­gag­ing in char­ity projects as part of their bar or bat­mitz­vah cel­e­bra­tions. And there are hun­dreds of char­i­ties, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the UK, Is­rael and else­where, who wel­come the sup­port from th­ese young adults, for fund-rais­ing and aware­ness-build­ing.

“When we started think­ing about Ella’s bat­mitz­vah, we strongly felt that there should be some sort of spir­i­tual go­ing-on too. We wanted her to learn that it’s not ‘al­ways about you’ and that it’s im­por­tant to give to your com­mu­nity,” re­marks Lindsay David­son.

“We re­cruited 20 of Ella’s friends and spent the af­ter­noon at the Camp Sim­cha House in Hen­don,” con­tin­ues Lindsay.

“The girls wrapped gifts they had brought for sick chil­dren in hospi­tal and pre­pared out­ing bags for fam­i­lies who were go­ing on a Camp Sim­cha re­spite re­treat. It showed them how pre­cious and frag­ile life is and that there are peo­ple in our com­mu­nity who need our sup­port.”

Help­ing other kids is par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing to many chil­dren, while some es­pe­cially want to sup­port some­thing Is­rael-re­lated. Meir Panim, an Is­raeli outreach or­gan­i­sa­tion, com­bines both.

“As an or­gan­i­sa­tion that fo­cuses a huge part of its ef­forts on al­le­vi­at­ing poverty among Is­raeli chil­dren, it’s some­thing that chil­dren abroad can really con­nect with,” says Gabriel Blauer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the UK branch of Meir Panim. Its Project Con­nect en­cour­ages chil­dren across the world to twin their bar or bat­mitz­vah with that of a needy child in Is­rael. They can do­nate a pro­por­tion of their gift money to help pay for their twin’s bar or bat­mitz­vah, or­gan­ise a fund-rais­ing event or do some­thing more long-term.

Twelve-year-old Is­abelle Se­hati, from New York started a year­long pen-pal project be­tween her friends and girls at a school sup­ported by Meir Panim in Kiryat Malachi, south­ern Is­rael.

“I specif­i­cally wanted to reach out to dis­ad­van­taged Is­raeli girls my own age,” she says. “I wanted them to have some­one to talk to, some­one to make them feel spe­cial and loved.”

The girls wrote let­ters and sent gifts and in sum­mer the girls from Amer­ica flew over for a joint bat­mitz­vah party with their pen-pals.

“We lived worlds apart — not just in terms of con­ti­nents, but ex­pe­ri­ences too,” says Is­abelle. “But I quickly re­alised that it doesn’t mat­ter where you are or what lan­guage you speak, it’s easy to find things in com­mon and talk like nor­mal friends.” Tali, Is­abelle’s mother, adds: “Many of th­ese kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It was hum­bling and we all got a glimpse into what’s truly im­por­tant in life.”

Is­raeli char­ity Reuth Med­i­cal Cen­tre, en­cour­ages par­tic­i­pants of its B’nai Mitz­vah Friends pro­gramme to max­imise their in­di­vid­ual tal­ents. The only re­hab hospi­tal in Tel Aviv, the cen­tre helps thou­sands of pa­tients ev­ery year, in­clud­ing sol­diers, vic­tims of ter­ror­ist at­tacks and those who have been in­jured in car ac­ci­dents.

“We tai­lor each project so it suits the per­son who is do­nat­ing time or money,” says Miriam Frankel, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Reuth. Chil­dren who play an in­stru­ment may do­nate money to the mu­sic ther­apy de­part­ment or per­form for pa­tients and those who like sports can host a foot­ball tour­na­ment to raise funds for in­house sports and phys­io­ther­apy.

“One boy from Eng­land wrote and il­lus­trated a story book which is now read by sick chil­dren and their sib­lings,” Frankel con­tin­ues. “It’s all about es­tab­lish­ing a con­nec­tion. If a child of 12 or 13 cre­ates a strong con­nec­tion with Reuth now, it can lead to a last­ing re­la­tion­ship in the fu­ture.”

Lon­doner So­phie Gra­biner (third from left) cel­e­brates her bat­mitz­vah with “twin” Bir­tokan Tam­sagan (fourth from left) in Jerusalem’s Great Syn­a­gogue, as part of UJIA’s Ethiopian bar/bat mitz­vah pro­gramme

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