While most 11-year-old girls were home on a cold Thursday night doing homework or playing on their computers, Lielle Holzer and Leebee Bendheim were out shopping. And not for themselves. They were buying a bounty of birthday gifts for the participants of i-Shine in Bergen County. This outing began as a concept about a year ago at a meeting discussing the different chesed projects that the students at Yeshivat Noam could participate in for their bar and bat mitzvah projects. The choices are many and they range from raising future seeing-eye dogs to “clowning around” with Areyvut. Participating in one of these mitzvot has become every bit a part of the simcha, like picking out invitations or buying new shoes; but the chesed element truly enhances the celebration and brings meaning to becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. Actions really do speak louder than words.
Leebee and Lielle were immediately drawn to i-Shine and the warmth that the organization radiates. The i-Shine program takes place at Yeshivat Noam, which was another reason why they chose it. According to Lielle, “I wanted to help kids who were going through hard things.” Leebee added, “The kids really look forward to going to the i-Shine program after school. It makes them really happy.” The girls are not only best friends, but they are also cousins, and even though their bat mitzvahs are months apart, they wanted to go on this chesed journey together.
“First we wanted to do something with arts and crafts and we were making personalized chalk boards for people,” Leebee shared. “But then we saw that some of our friends were raising a lot of money with bake sales, so we decided to do that,” Lielle added.
With the help of their moms’ extensive group of friends, the idea came to fruition. On erev Chanukah, the bake sale was held at Lielle’s home, and at the writing of this piece, over $6,000 have been raised.
Michal Zahtz, one of the coordinators of i-Shine, was thrilled when the girls came to her asking for suggestions. “When Lielle, Leebee, Shifra and Shulamit approached me looking for a special way to use the tzedakah money they were planning to raise together for their bat mitzvah, we wanted to find something that would be meaningful both to them and to the i-Shine program. We realized that the money was being raised on the occasion of their special birthdays, so they should use the money to make birthdays at i-Shine even more special. We’ve always tried hard to make the birthdays a memorable and a super-fun experience and now this money can be used for special birthday parties, gifts and in any other way that will make each birthday more amazing.”
Kayla Schiff, another bat mitzvah girl from Yeshivat Noam, raised money for Chai Lifeline and made gift baskets for kids in the hospital. “My mom is my role model for why I chose Chai Lifeline. For the past four summers she has ridden her bike in the Tour De Simcha, which is a 75-mile ride that ends at the camp. She also volunteers for i-Shine.” Kayla’s classmates helped make the baskets more special by writing letters to the children who were receiving them. “After delivering the baskets, it made me realize, even more, how lucky we are that we are healthy.” You can still donate to Kayla’s project by going to her GoMitzvahPage, which is part of Chai Lifeline.
By Banji Ganchrow