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Shul mitzvathon designed to inspire kids with sense of ownership

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Participants in the Shaarei Tefillah Kids Mitzvathon collected sponsorships to raise money for a new parochet. (Shaarei Tefillah photo)

Six-year-old Joel Weinstein hasn’t lost very many teeth. That’s why his mother, Rachel, was so impressed when he decided of his own accord to donate his money from the tooth fairy to charity.

“This was really something special,” she said. It was a “very poignant thing for him to say he wanted to give that tooth fairy money to tzedakah.”

Joel, along with his sisters Miriam, 11, and Emily, 9, was participating in the Shaarei Tefillah Kids Mitzvathon initiative. Earlier this year, the Toronto shul invited children to perform mitzvot and ask for sponsorships. The money raised would pay for a new parochet (curtain covering the Torah ark).

“Some people sponsor for running, for hiking, for spinning, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be nice if they got sponsored for doing mitzvahs?’ ” said Shaarei Tefillah’s Rabbi Rafi Lipner. “It seems so logical that they should. They can take pride in that. People should give them that sense of ‘We value what you’re doing.’ ”

Rabbi Lipner got the idea for the mitzvathon when somebody mentioned to him how nice it was that the next generation was taking on leadership positions at the synagogue.

“I thought to myself, ‘Wait, I think the next generation that can lead the shul is not the new young parents getting involved, but their kids,’ ” Rabbi Lipner wrote in an email. “Kids are full of optimism, Jewish pride and excitement. They inspire their parents and our community.”

The point of the Mizvathon was to inspire a sense of pride and ownership for the synagogue in the children. Rabbi Lipner said the unveiling of the new parochet, which was revealed in a special Shabbat service on Oct. 27, was a significant moment, akin to other synagogues laying a foundation stone.

The mitzvathon ran for about four weeks, from mid-May to mid-June. Shaarei Tefillah sent out flyers to parents, encouraging them to sign up their children, and included suggestions of different mitzvot participants could perform under two categories: those between them and ha-Shem, and those between them and other people.

Some of the mitzvot in the former category were writing a devar Torah, studying the Torah, Mishnah or Talmud and going to shul. The latter category included helping prepare for Shabbat, taking care of animals and respecting parents.

In all, 76 children participated and raised a combined total of nearly $14,000. The goal was for the children to collectively perform 613 mitzvot – though, as Rabbi Lipner pointed out, that did not mean all 613 separate mitzvot detailed in the Torah, since many of them cannot be done today.

“Nobody sat there and killed Amalek,” joked Rabbi Lipner. “We didn’t have a Kohen shecht (slaughter) the korban (sacrifice).”

Instead, he said, some of the most common mitzvot performed were visiting people, saying Shema before bed, reciting blessings on food and donating to charitable causes.

For their part, Rachel Weinstein’s children helped each other with homework, went to shul, helped set up for Shabbat and gave tzedakah.

“I felt really proud of them. I felt particularly proud that the concepts came so easily to them, that they took it on with such enthusiasm and it was such a positive association between doing something for the shul and doing mitzvahs,” she said.

Weinstein, whose family joined the shul as new members this year, said she has noticed permanent differences in her children since the end of the mitzvathon.

“I think they feel more connected to the shul,” she said. “I think, having done this mitzvathon, they feel especially connected to the Shaarei Tefillah community and have some ownership of contributing.”

READ: MUSLIMS FORM ‘RINGS OF PEACE’ AROUND TORONTO-AREA SHULS

Ethan English was another one of the participants in the mitzvathon. The eight-year-old’s mitzvot included visiting his neighbour’s shiva when her father passed away, helping his dad bring in and organize the groceries and cleaning up his toys and making his bed without being asked.

English said he was happy and proud to see what he and other kids accomplished through their mitzvot, and he also felt good when he was doing good deeds. He has a message for anyone who is considering performing mitzvot themselves:

“They help other people,” said English. “It makes other people happy and then they do mitzvahs.”