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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
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Putting The Mitzvah Back Into Bat Mitzvah

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While there is no doubt that a bat mitzvah is an opportunity to celebrate a milestone date in a pre-teen girl’s life, much of the emphasis is on the bat, the guest of honor herself. While many soon to be twelve year old girls focus on their clothing, hair, invitations, menu and color scheme, it is refreshing to see how many spend an equal amount of time addressing the mitzvah aspect of this event, by integrating a special project, designed to benefit others, into the festivities.

Incorporating a mitzvah themed project can be as simple as baking challah, taking up a collection for needy individuals or packing up activity bags for hospitalized children. But just as we rack our brains trying to come up with unique activities and creative menus, the sky is the limit when it comes to finding ways to infuse the celebration with at least a modicum of kedusha.

For Raina Dubin, a Maryland seventh grader and the oldest of three girls, the way to elevate her bat mitzvah to a higher level involved an item that we all take for granted: pencils. Partnering with Right-to-Write, a New York City based organization that donates pens and pencils to schools, orphanages and hospitals in developing countries, Raina’s invitation included a request for pencils and/or donations to her chosen cause.

Raina Dubin

Raina Dubin

“Raina is an exceptional student and education is the most important thing to her,” Anat Dubin, Raina’s mother, told The Jewish Press. “Something about helping kids, giving them a solid educational foundation suited her perfectly.”

“I chose this project because it seemed like something everyone could be a part of,” added Raina. “It is simple and easy for anyone to help out kids in need.”

Right-To-Write was born when Kim Oppenheimer, a special educator of babies and small children, discovered how in demand writing implements of any kind were when she traveled on medical missions to Peru and Namibia. Realizing that households in America always seem to have an abundance of unused pens and pencils, she established the organization in an effort to further education in third world countries.

“The hardest part is having people in the United States realize that there is a need for these items,” said Ms. Oppenheimer. “I know that everyone has extra pens and pencils in the bottom of their handbags or backs of drawers and the impact is big. One pen equals almost a year of education for one child and I love the idea of having everyday people realize how they can help. I have always wanted to expand into schools, from preschools to high schools, so that they can create pen drives in their communities. Then came along this wonderful girl, on her own, and she has really wowed me by how humbly and simply she added to the project. Instead of a teacher bringing the idea forward, she brought it forward on her own to her friends and opened their awareness.”

In addition to collecting 3,458 new pens and pencils at her Bat Mizvah celebration, Raina’s guests also contributed ancillary items that would prove useful to aspiring students: pencil grips, erasers and sharpeners. While Right-To-Write collects pencils in any condition, Raina asked her guests to contribute new pencils.

“We felt that these kids deserved new pencils and this was a very concrete, tangible experience,” explained Mrs. Dubin. “There is a brilliant simplicity in what Right-to-Write is doing and it gave Raina the ability to visualize what she was doing for others and see the results of her campaigning.”

2800 of the writing implements collected at Raina’s Bat Mitzvah were sent to schools in Uganda and Kenya, with the remainder going to educational institutions in Cuba.

Having gotten a taste of how satisfying community can be, Raina hopes to take on other projects in the future and expressed her gratitude to everyone who contributed to her campaign.

“To me, helping others is taking time away from what you are doing to do something for someone else,” reported Raina. “It felt so good knowing that other people cared so much to help me with my project.”

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