08 August 2007

More Than a Basket of Food on the Table

Bat mitzva girl donates $100,000 to JNF

Samantha Resnick had only one item on her bat mitzva wish list. Unlike most girls her age, who cross their fingers for anything in a powder-blue Tiffany's box, Resnick set her sights on something a bit bigger than a ribbon fit around: $100,000 worth of donations to build a brand-new playground in Israel.

About a year-and-a-half before Resnick's bat mitzva, her father, Josh, sat his precocious, curly-haired daughter down for a talk.

"I said 'You've always had everything you've needed and you've also had everything you've ever wanted. Do you really want people to buy gifts for you or do you want to do something special for kids in Israel?'"

Without a moment's pause, Resnick agreed to the idea. "I was really proud of her," said Josh.

Over 500 friends and relatives received an unusual invitation for Resnick's bat mitzva last September: Included in the envelope was a small card requesting that donations be made to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in lieu of gifts. Every family invited to the event contributed to assemble one of the largest bar or bat mitzva donations the JNF has ever received.

On Monday, in Israel for the first time, Resnick and her parents formally opened the playground that is attached to Sapir Park in the Arava Valley. The playground is designed to accommodate children who have special needs alongside those who do not.

Resnick, whose mother, Debbie, is a language and hearing therapist in the Pittsburgh public school system, explained why it was important to her to include special-needs children in the project.

"I feel so upset when you see all these kids playing and a mentally challenged kid is left out," she said. "You see them thinking 'I wish I could go and play, too.'"

Though content to be a 14-year-old philanthropist for the moment, Resnick has plans to expand the park.

"I want it to be huge," she said, adding that she hopes to emulate a park near her own home in Fox Chapel near Pittsburgh. She described her dream park with the matter-of-fact certainty of being a kid who knows exactly what a kid would want. "There's a slide of course, because everyone loves slides... and there are tire swings because I wanted to bring some stuff from America."

Resnick's parents are both deeply involved in the JNF; her father is president of his region in Pittsburgh and her mother is an active member of the Sapphire Society, the ladies' division of the JNF.

They said the idea of a bat mitzva was being lost in contemporary American society, and they did not want their only child to miss out on learning actual values at this critical point in her life.

"She said 'You know what, I don't need the gifts,' which just told us how much she understood the b'nei mitzva," said Josh, noting that many b'nei mitzvot have become increasingly materialistic. "It's always disturbed me that these children of families of wealth and of higher networks have people attending their affairs trying to figure out what to buy them... I think it was meaningful to a lot of the attendees that Samantha would choose to go down this path."

"It was important for our family to know what a bat mitzva really was," echoed Debbie.

Thinking about her playground, Resnick could not help but gush about the beneficiaries of her generosity: "I really love kids. I like to take good care of them."

KKL-JNF's Green Israel

Young Samantha has set a new benchmark in b'nei mitzvah chesed projects. Of course, with parents actively involved with JNF it was natural that she should follow their example and engage in a building project in Israel. This is wonderful example of using the b'nei mitzvah opportunity for a worthwhile learning project. I hope she truly understands the unique nature of this accomplishment and that she was as much involved with the actual project as her parents. I am not criticizing, Chas v'shalom, it is a wonderful chesed and should be an example for every Jewish child approaching b'nei mitzva age.

Believe me, I am not about to launch into a pedagogical debate pitting the 'let kids be kids' pose versus the guided and controlled learning pose. Given some of the parties and events I have seen surrounding the so-called bar or bas mitzvah, this is a refreshing turn of events. Yet, $100,000 fund-raising for a pre-teen? If everyone of the 500 person guest list donated $200, done. But really? So I come back to, was it the parents or the bas mitzvah's project? I hope it was for the parents a chance to teach their daughter the great mitzvah of tzedakah by virtue of a lifetime memory. For the bas mitzvah I hope it was all about idealistic dreams taking shape, molded by the halachic and hashgafic principles of helping your brother (sister) Jew. My typical skepticism by necessity will give way to a healthier benefit of the doubt. Mazel Tov Samantha on a beautiful bas mitzvah project. May you reap the rewards for your kindness in multitudes.

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What Words Offend Arabs? The Truth.

Children's Poetry Booklet Recalled After Arabs Complain
(Israeli censorship kowtows to Arabs.
When Will We Tell The Truth Without Fear)

(IsraelNN.com 7 Sivan 5768/June 10, '08) Ynet's web site and Arab complaints against a ten-year-old boy's poem about terrorists has resulted in the recall of all of the Nes Ziona municipality's children's poetry booklets.

Ynet boasts that its coverage of the poem resulted in its being recalled.

The text of the poem (Ynet's translation):

Ahmed's bunker has surprises galore: Grenades, rifles are hung on the wall. Ahmed is planning another bombing!What a bunker Ahmed has, who causes daily harm.Ahmed knows how to make a bomb. Ahmed is Ahmed, that's who he is, so don't forget to be careful of him.We get blasted while they have a blast!Ahmed and his friends could be wealthy and sunny, if only they wouldn't buy rockets with all their money.

Poetry competition director Marika Berkowitz, who published the booklet, was surprised at the protests and told Ynet: "This is the boy's creation and this is what he wanted to express. Of course there should be a limit, but I think the there is no racism here. 'Ahmed' is a general term for the enemy. These are the murmurings of an innocent child."

The Education Ministry told Ynet: "The local authority that published the booklet should have guided the students in a more correct manner through the schools. The district will investigate the issue with the local authorities."
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