As I noted in my previous post, one of the pillars of Judaism is the notion of Repairing the World, or Tikkun Olam in Hebrew. In the Jewish tradition, it is customary for children preparing for their bar or bat mitzvahs to participate in a project in which they give back to the community. Some communities refer to this as the child’s “Mitzvah Project.” By doing a Mitzvah Project, children learn to take responsibility for the welfare of the community in which they live, and they often are reminded of their many blessings in the process.
I have the unique fortune to hear about many wonderful ways in which my clients’ children give back to their community. They range from helping animals to helping humans, from helping people in communities close to home to helping people on the other side of the world. Here is the second of two entries that describe a few of my favorite Mitzvah Projects that some of my clients have created to benefit others:
SUPPORTING THE ABAYUDAYA JEWS OF UGANDA
Gianna, from Woodland Hills, California, decided to help a group of people on the other side of the world: The Abayudaya Jews of Uganda. The Abayudaya are a tribe of people whose leader converted the whole community to Judaism over one hundred years ago. They strive to live in peace alongside their Christian and Muslim neighbors and are helping to increase the quality of life for all Ugandans. Under Rabbi Gershom Sizomu’s leadership, they now have a Medical Center open to everyone and around the time of Gianna’s bat mitzvah, were raising money to build a Community Center and Childcare Center.
Gianna had a special connection to the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda. Their spiritual leader, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, did his rabbinic internship at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, California. Shomrei Torah is located up the street from Temple Aliyah, Gianna’s synagogue, and Temple Aliyah’s cantor, Hazzan Mike Stein, with whom Gianna and her family are very close, formed a close relationship with Rabbi Sizomu during his internship at the neighboring synagogue.
While the Abayudaya raised enough money for a physical building to hold their new childcare center, Gianna knew a building was not enough. As she wrote on an insert included with her invitation, “Children need a lot of activities to keep them busy and learning. My mitzvah project is to raise money to furnish toys, books, and playground equipment for the new Childcare Center in Mbale, Uganda.”
The childcare center serves Jewish, Christian and Muslim children so their mothers can work and contribute to the growing economy. Gianna was inspired to do this as her mitzvah project because both of her grandmothers were preschool teachers, and have always worked to promote peace. She wanted to honor them as she became a bat mitzvah by providing the Abayudaya with everything they need in order to provide quality childcare to Jewish, Christian and Muslim families in their community.
For more information about the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, click here: Abayudaya Jews of Uganda
For more information about the Abayudaya’s Synagogue and Community Center, click here: Abayudaya’s Synagogue and Community Center
ENHANCING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR ETHIOPIAN JEWS
Yael and Akiva’s b’nai mitzvah project was inspired by their sister Rosa, who was born in Ethiopia. Being twins themselves, they twinned with an Ethiopian boy and girl in Israel to help sponsor their B’nai Mitzvah preparations. They worked with a charity called The North American Conference On Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ). In addition, they raised funds to help NACOEJ serve the larger Ethiopian community in Israel who have fulfilled their dream of reaching Zion, which is how they refer to Israel.
Many people in this vibrant community are thriving. However, many are still struggling. It is especially the children of these pioneers who need the help of NACOEJ and their programs. Often their parents speak little or no Hebrew and cannot help their children with school work. Even today, only half of Ethiopian-Israeli elementary school children reach grade level. To change this, the NACOEJ Limudiah Program provides intensive after-school education to about 750 children a year. NACOEJ also has sponsorship programs for Ethiopian-Israeli high school and college students.
Click here for more information about the NACOEJ, click here: North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ)
RAISING MONEY TO PROVIDE CAMP EXPERIENCES FOR KIDS WITH SERIOUS PEDIATRIC ILLNESSES
Weston and Lindsay are 17 months apart so they decided to share their b’nai mitzvah. As their special Tikkun Olam project, they chose to support a wonderful organization called Chai Lifeline, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping children and families who are affected by serious pediatric illness. This organization is particularly near and dear to Weston and Lindsay’s hearts because Chai Lifeline has significantly helped a family that is very close to them. Chai Lifeline offers free programs and services that allow seriously ill children and their families to receive much-needed social and emotional support, therapeutic recreational activities, educational support, crisis intervention, and special camp experiences that give the children a vacation from illness and pain.
Weston and Lindsay chose to raise money to give the children of Chai Lifeline a special experience at Camp Simcha, where they can go to forget about illness and experience the joy of childhood. Since Weston and Lindsay love music and theater arts, their goal was to raise $5,000 to fund a program called “The Show Must Go On” for the kids at camp. They asked guests to make donations in honor of their b’nai mitzvah. They also collected toys for the children of Chai Lifeline.
For more information about Chai Lifeline, click here: Chai Lifeline
For more information about Camp Simcha, click here: Camp Simcha