By Aaron Greenblatt, Jewish Agency Intern
To do a Mitzvah is defined as fulfilling one of God's commandments.
The most special time in a Jewish child's life is burgeoning into a man or a woman in the eyes of God, to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
All Bar and Bat Mitzvahs celebrate this right-of-passage as a milestone because at least one part of them has matured, realizing they are part of a community, a world that comprises more than just themselves.
This can also be a time for tremendous compassion, where, because these former children are now Jewish adults, they can choose to take responsibility for a world not always just - where tzdakkah evolves into an essential mitzvah required for the betterment of society.
Michigan natives, Sarah Richard and Avery Drongowski, realized this opportunity for self-empowerment. Together, they collected school supplies for disadvantage Israeli youth at their synagogue, Temple Emanuel.
The six month effort culminated this past week with a 25 person Temple Emanuel trip to Israel. On the afternoon of July 21, the young adults lugged two enormous suitcases filled with pens, paper, colored pencils, etc. to Kiryat Y'airim, a youth village located north of Jerusalem.
Kiryat Y'airim houses and schools a total of 120 students, 60% of whom are new immigrants from Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union. The village acts a surrogate home and provides its youngsters with education, clothing and showers - the bare necessities in life. These 7th-9th graders often come from divorced-family homes where they suffer neglect. Their parents abuse drugs, lack jobs and cannot give their children the skills and opportunities to succeed in life. The youth village is the last chance to save the at-risk youth from a life on the street.
After 9th grade, Kiryat Y'airim youth disperse to local high schools, with the focus on success and integration. Many youth complete their high school degrees with honorable mentions and continue to elite units in the Israeli army.
The village is supported by multi-national philanthropists. They range from donations of tens of thousands of dollars to grassroots efforts like Sarah and Avery's.
Karren Richard, Sarah's mother, initiated contact over a year ago with Israel's Jewish Agency via the Jewish Agency Website. Working with Tal Bar-Lev of the Israel Department, they realized an opportunity for her Bat Mitzvah-age daughter to affect personal change.
The idea behind this Mitzvah was to connect American and Israeli youth and to observe directly the impacts one's efforts can have on an entire community.
No matter how humble the effort or the change may be, the importance lies in stepping beyond the realm of personal comfort to create a network of support.
"During your visit, you proved that it is possible to make a significant and valuable contribution, whatever one’s age or financial base," Bar-Lev wrote to Sarah and Avery.
She continued, "I hope you saw for yourselves that it 'only' takes goodwill and a warm heart–and you certainly have plenty of both."
Because of their contribution, over 120 Israeli youth can now rejoice in Sarah and Avery's hard-earned accomplishment: a step toward adulthood, compassion and a strengthened Jewish community.