For Ellie Joseph, there never was a doubt that she would donate her bat mitzvah gifts to a charity – the only question was, which one?
That question was answered during an event at Toronto’s Beth Radom Congregation late last year, where Israeli shinshinim – young emissaries – thanked their host families and described a project run by Latet, an Israeli humanitarian organization that provides boxes of food and other necessities to Holocaust survivors in need.
The shinshinim had brought in a crew of Israeli “master chefs” to demonstrate to the 120 people present what could be done with the food packages delivered to survivors. Rounding out the evening was a video that described the plight of elderly survivors. An estimated 45,000 Holocaust survivors live below the poverty line in Israel.
“I had always planned on giving the money to charity,” said Ellie, a Grade 8 student at Robbins Hebrew Academy. She had just read The Devil’s Arithmetic, a book about a young girl caught up in the Holocaust, and “it got me thinking about Holocaust survivors,” she said.
“Both presentations were impactful, so much so that the video that Latet screened really left an impression on Ellie who, at the time, was trying to find a meaningful bat mitzvah project,” said her father, Adam.
Following her bat mitzvah in May, Ellie donated $15,000 to Latet’s Aid for Life program, which provides aid packages to survivors. She followed that up with hand-written Rosh Hashanah cards to two women, Sabina, 87, and Sonia, 82, both of whom reside in Ramat Gan.
Recently, Ellie and her family received an email message from the Latet staff members who delivered the cards and who described their impact on the two Israeli ladies.
“It was a truly moving experience,” Latet wrote to the Josephs. “Both of them were extremely touched as they opened the card and absolutely loved the attention. What a beautiful gesture.
“Sabina had tears in her eyes when [staff member] Elisheva read her Ellie’s card. She wanted to call you guys right away to thank you in person.”
Ellie is pleased with the reception the cards had in Israel and she wants to get in touch with Sonia and Sabina. “We’re trying to schedule a call,” she said.
Donating bar or bat mitzvah gifts is not something out of the ordinary for the youngsters at Robbins, Ellie said. “A lot of them are doing the same thing. I feel I’m really fortunate and there are people who don’t have the basic needs,” she said.
Her charitable impulse will continue at school this year. She’s co-chairing a committee on tikkun olam (repairing the world), which researches and presents charitable projects that the student body can support.
Latet, meanwhile, bills itself as a humanitarian organization that addresses poverty and supports Holocaust survivors in need. It was founded in 1996 by Gilles Darmon, a French immigrant to Israel, as a local branch of the French humanitarian organization, Équilibre.
Over the years, Latet, which means “to give,” funded humanitarian aid projects around the world and food collection campaigns in Israel.
It established its Aid for Life program for impoverished Holocaust survivors in 2007. Over the years, it has advocated for greater government attention to the nutritional needs of Israelis and it has created a network of volunteers to raise funds and distribute food aid across the country and abroad.