Last August, 12-year-old Molly Frey returned to Guatemala, where she was born, with her parents, Ronni and Chris, and her brother Seth, to the town of Santa Maria de Jesus.
She and Seth were both adopted from Guatemala as babies, and subsequently converted to Judaism. The family, who live in Caldwell, went there in 2012, to help build a house for a poor local family with the New Jersey-based nonprofit Houses to Homes. Seth had raised money for the house as his bar mitzva project.
This year, when they returned to the town, they saw the new elementary school that had just been completed. Molly noticed that although it had a room set aside as a library, furnished with bookcases, it didn’t look like the library at her school, Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell.
“They had bookshelves, but there were hardly any books on them,” she said. She decided that for her bat mitzva, at Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in May next year, she wanted to raise money to purchase books for the school. To that end, she and her family have organized a Battle of the Bands concert, to take place in Montclair on Wednesday, Nov. 6 (see sidebar). It is open to the public.
Molly said she likes swimming more than reading, and prefers screens to books, but it touched her that the children she met in Guatemala had so little. “I’m happy to help them have an opportunity to have something more in their lives,” she said.
Ronni Frey said, “We are hoping to raise $4,000 to buy books — mostly Spanish but some English ones too. We’ll also be buying books to send as our own contribution.” They will be selling tickets, pizza, water, rubber bracelets, water, glow sticks, and baked goods in an effort to reach their goal.
Seth and two of his cousins play in one of the bands that will perform that night.
Ronni said her children’s involvement with their birth country has been a way to learn about its culture, and she sees Molly’s project as “a wonderful way to begin her lifetime commitment to mitzvot.”
“The illiteracy rate in Guatemala is about 31 percent, so it is very important these children learn to read in order to better their lives. The books will make a huge difference for them,” she said.