The gifts Daniel Rubinoff received for his early-September bar mitzvah ran the standard gamut, but the same cannot be said for the ones he gave out as part of his coming-of-age milestone.
Cymbals, bells, maracas, bongos, tambourines – percussion instruments all, and worlds away from the Daniel’s own chosen musical instrument, the guitar.
He donated the instruments – $1,000 worth – to Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, the culmination of a bar mitzvah tzedakah project.
“Music is able to make me focus and take stress off me,” said Daniel, “and it helps these other kids to learn and to become stronger, and that’s really cool, because it relates to a lot of people.”
Holland Bloorview, which serves children with disabilities, uses music therapy in a variety of ways. During his pre-bar mitzvah hospital visit, Daniel was most impressed by its cutting-edge Virtual Musical Instrument, a sort of musical version of a dancing video game. Many patients lack the dexterity to play an instrument. With the VMI, children face a large television screen and move their arm through a virtual dot, creating a musical note.
His bar mitzvah luncheon at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue reminded guests that Daniel had prepared more than portions of the Torah reading and Friday-night services.
“We wanted to showcase the organization instead of just giving them money,” said his mother, Maureen Gottesman. “Part of this is awareness, so we came up with showcasing the instruments as centrepieces, and there were cards so people would know what it was.”
Bar and bat mitzvah-age children and their parents often struggle to find the most fitting way to celebrate the milestone. While reading the Torah on Sabbath morning remains standard, many supplement the experience with actions that inculcate values, such as Jewish learning or social action.
Choices vary among Daniel’s friends at the Toronto Heschel School. Some donate to charity, while a few “will do more action with it,” said Daniel, such as with Ve’ahavta’s B’nai Mitzvah Program or the Hospital for Sick Children.
“Daniel was very insistent that he wanted to do something a little bit different than what others have done,” said his father, Jason Rubinoff.
‘Music is able to make me focus and take stress off me… it helps these other kids to learn and to become stronger’
“Obviously, he’s very passionate about music so the whole idea of tying music was very important. With him and his input, we did a fair bit of due diligence on programs in the city. The whole idea was to give the gift of music to somebody who might not have access to it otherwise, maybe for socio-economic reasons.”
Social action, or tikkun olam, runs deep for Daniel and his family. For the past three years, he’s been head of his school’s tikkun olam committee, raising money to support survivors of the Nepal earthquake in 2015, and clothes last winter for Jewish Family & Child. This year’s project, a hair drive, will supply chemotherapy patients with wigs.
Both he and his 11-year-old brother, Zachary, have picked tomatoes for food-aid group Leket Israel, and both parents have also participated in multiple causes.
“There are a few things that come in here,” said Jason, who sits on the board of directors at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “It’s not just tzedakah. It’s also the fact that it’s really about the community and giving back and giving well for others. It’s not a Jewish hospital. It’s children, so that’s certainly very attractive to him… It’s just part of that evaluation of being a responsible citizen and taking ownership for who he is and his place in the world.”
The dedication has impressed the higher-ups at the hospital’s fundraising arm, the largest supporting childhood disability in Canada.
“While we appreciate all of our donors, there’s something really special about a 13-year-old supporting our cause,” said Sandra Hawken, president and CEO of Holland Bloorview Foundation. “To have that maturity and desire to help others at such a young age speaks volumes about his character and his family.”
With his bar mitzvah done, Holland Bloorview is still in the picture: Daniel’s junior-high choir is slated to perform at the hospital in the next month or two.