TORONTO — Tweens celebrating bar and bat mitzvahs today are emerging as major charitable forces, as some happily give away their monetary gifts.
When Alexa Edelstein, a Grade 7 student at Netivot HaTorah Day School, celebrated her bat mitzvah recently, she asked her guests to donate to the Zareinu Educational Centre, rather than giving gifts to her.
“She raised $11,000 and was beaming as she presented the cheque to the school,” said Michelle Edelstein, Alexa’s mother.
“Becoming a bat mitzvah was a milestone in my life. Not only did I want to do something meaningful, but I also wanted to be an inspiration to other kids to do the same,” Alexa said.
Teaching kids about the responsibilities of Jewish adulthood, encouraging values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), giving back and raising funds for good causes can go hand in hand with this rite-of-passage, combining service, advocacy and study.
Alexa was exposed to Zareinu from an early age when she walked the runway at the centre’s annual fashion show. “I would take Alexa every year to Zareinu’s annual Moveathon, and today it is still one of her favourite things to do,” Michelle Edelstein said.
Alexa’s cousin, Rachel Benlolo, is a student at Zareinu, and a family friend has a little girl with Down syndrome who attends the school.
“I have seen the miracles they performed with Rachel,” Alexa said.
Zareinu provides individualized therapies and treatments with an adapted education that includes Jewish teachings and traditions. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for children with disabilities and their families by providing the most up-to-date therapies and learning strategies to help them achieve their individual potential.
Last year, Alexa went with her class to Zareinu to learn about the different therapies and activities the teachers and therapists do with children to help them overcome their challenges.
“They asked us to put a sock on our hands and pick up Fruit Loops, then put them on a pipe cleaner to show us how it feels for many kids to do something that for us seems like a simple task. They also spun us around and when they stopped and we all felt dizzy, they told us that many kids feel this way without being spun around. They showed us words on a piece of paper with the letters mixed up so that we can see how a child with dyslexia feels.”
Alexa said it was a great way to help the students appreciate how Zareinu works. “Visiting the school gave me a better understanding of… the types of challenges that many kids have. It made me sad to see so many kids with physical and developmental challenges, but, at the same time, happy that such a school exists and helps so many children and families,” she said.
Rachel Benlolo’s mother, Marlene Kenley, told The CJN, “As cousins, we are very blessed to have the family that we have. It’s touching to witness the next generation of children getting involved and taking after their parents, such as Alexa supporting Rachel, wanting to be a part of her life, and understanding that Zareinu is such an important school. There are many children out there who need people like Alexa, and Rachel is one of them.”
Not every child will become a philanthropist, but involving children in your family’s charitable activities is one way to give them a sense of charity as part of a legacy of giving.
“We are all so worried about whether the next generation will care as much, or do as much. Here’s a bat mitzvah girl making a big difference and setting an amazing example,” said Shimon Vinger, director of development at Zareinu.
Alexa’s message to other kids: “There’s no better gift than the gift of giving.”