TEL AVIV — Toronto native Noa Weinzweig’s decision to donate her bat mitzvah money to Holocaust survivors spiralled her into the Israeli media spotlight and landed her in a seat across from Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Noa, who moved to Herzliya from Toronto with her family 4-1/2 years ago, used her bat mitzvah gift money to finance a three-day vacation to Jerusalem for 50 Holocaust survivors.
All of Israel’s major news companies sent out reporters to interview the English-speaking teenager who – as Peres said – managed to “raise the spirits of our entire nation” with one goodwill gesture.
Noa told The CJN she hoped “others will start donating to survivors, because they don’t get the attention they deserve. These are the strongest people I have ever met. I will never forget them. After all they went through, they deserve happiness, peace and joy.”
Noa, who is now 13, said that last year, when her parents, Nirit Gilboa and Jeffrey Wynn, spoke to her about the importance of giving back to society, she knew that she would ask her guests to contribute to Holocaust survivors.
It’s a tradition in her family to give bar/bat-mitzvah money away. Her brother, Dean, now 18, donated his bar mitzvah funds to Beit Halochem, which aids Israeli veterans, five years ago.
“Jeff and I felt very strongly that our children’s bar/bat mitzvah is an opportunity to educate them to give back to society and introduce them to tzedakah,” Gilboa told The CJN.
Noa attended Bialik Hebrew Day School and Crestwood School while living in Toronto and now studies at the American International School in Even Yehuda. She lives with her four siblings and mother in Herzliya full-time during the year, while her father commutes from Toronto every five weeks. The whole family returns to Toronto every summer, and Noa still attends Camp Winnebago in Huntsville, Ont.
While donating part of bar/bat-mitzvah gifts is more commonplace, the notion of giving away everything struck a chord with Israelis.
The media storm that accompanied the all-expenses-paid trip for the 50 Holocaust survivors caught the family off-guard, said Gilboa, (who was born on Kibbutz Kfar Menachem and grew up on Kibbutz Degania Alef).
After all, Noa celebrated her bat mitzvah last year. But because of the planning and waiting for good weather, the emotion-packed holiday for the survivors only took place at the beginning of this month.
The Holocaust survivors who took part in the trip praised Noa’s action, calling it “an act from the heart” and “beyond admirable.”
“I was under the impression that people think about us only on Holocaust Remembrance Day and forget about us the rest of the year,” one survivor told the Jerusalem Post. “But this young lady has given us such a heart-warming experience, simply because she cares.”
Even the president cleared his schedule to host Noa and the survivors at his official residence in Jerusalem.
“There are no words to describe my meeting with Mr. Peres. I will never forget this day. He was so kind and made me feel very special,” Noa said.
“Meeting President Peres was extremely exciting and very moving under the circumstances. He was extremely pleasant and very welcoming towards Noa,” says her mother. “I didn’t give the meeting with him much thought, but the outcome has been unbelievable and has created a lot of awareness towards Holocaust survivors, which is very rewarding.”
Peres told Noa that she did “something exemplary” and that “sometimes a nation needs to learn from its children. You have taught us an exceptional lesson.”
And while praise was heaped on Noa, she feels the winner for having met the survivors.
“All the survivors I met touched my heart. I look at life differently now. This was an experience I will never forget,” she said. “I really hope others will listen to my words and start more awareness towards the Holocaust.
“I hope [people] will look up to what I did and will help others. I hope my story will encourage other kids to donate to any causes that they believe in.”