To complete the community service project he took on for his bar mitzva, Matt Shafer of East Brunswick traveled 6,000 miles to fulfill the mitzva in person.
Matt became bar mitzva in June at East Brunswick Jewish Center. He and his family traveled to Israel in the summer, where another service was held Aug. 16 atop Masada — and where Matt personally delivered to Israel Defense Forces soldiers the yield of his mitzva project: 250 shlukers, or water backpacks. He had raised the $5,000 to purchase the hydration packs through the sale of wristbands bearing the phrase “Peace 2012.” The packs have a hose attachment that allows for quick drinking during maneuvers.
With his parents, Will and Amy; his grandparents, Helen and Michael Kaplan of Highland Park; and an assortment of aunts, uncles, and cousins, Matt went to Army Base Adam near Tel Aviv, where they were treated to a training demonstration by IDF personnel.
“We went to different parts of the base,” said Matt in an Oct. 16 phone interview with NJJN. “It was really cool. I handed them the shlukers and told them about my bar mitzva project.” The soldiers, he said, were “really, really happy” to get the packs and thanked him and his family. “Some of them even hugged me.”
Arrangements for the base visit and donation were made through Yashar LaChayal, or Straight to the Soldier, an Israel-based organization that raises money for poor and “lone solders” — those without family in Israel — with which EBJC has an ongoing relationship through its Mitzvah Corps. In fact, it was corps cochair Jack Silverman who recommended the project, when Matt and his father were looking for suggestions.
“I think this is a phenomenal, wonderful bar mitzva project that gives young people the chance to make that connection with young people in Israel who are only a few years older than them, but are in the army for three years,” said Silverman.
He said that when Avi Baldesare, a 25-year-old IDF deputy commander, visited EBJC in June, he presented Matt with a plaque acknowledging his mitzva project, and that the soldier met with the family at the base in Israel.
Matt said he ordered the wristbands on line and sold them to synagogue members, fellow students at Rutgers Prep in Somerset, and at a bake sale hosted by his aunt and uncle, Michele and Jason Kaplan, at their Millburn home.
“It was extremely satisfying to see my son take on an act of tzedaka on his own and then see and feel the fruits of his hard work and get that deeper sense from giving back,” said Will, a board member at EBJC. “Seeing in my kid that deeper sense of what it means to give is one of the best feelings a dad can have.”
Will also said he was surprised at the financial difficulties faced by some of the soldiers, who often have a hard time getting even the basic supplies. “Being able to provide these necessities for these poor IDF soldiers who can’t afford them was really meaningful,” he said. “When Matt gave out the shlukers there was applause and a real sense of appreciation.”
Matt said he was grateful “to all my family members for supporting me.”
“I really feel like it’s a good thing that I did and I feel proud of myself,” he said. “I’m also grateful to the people who supported me.”
Those interested in doing a bar or bat mitzva project with Yashar LaChayal can contact Silverman at firstname.lastname@example.org.