Danny Siegel is a poet and author, but what he has become most widely known for is inspiring young Jews all over the country to do good in their communities. He has had just that effect on some local teens in the past few weeks.
A crowd of youngsters and their parents — over 100 people in all — attended the talk he gave at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains on Oct. 21 titled, “You can change the world using your mitzva power.”
Linda Poleyeff, director of education at the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, which hosted the event, said, “We wanted to make the bar and bat mitzva students aware of the important role that they play in terms of being ‘mitzva-doers’ and how they can implement this. We also wanted to give them information about various projects that they can get involved in leading up to their b’nei or b’not mitzva.”
From 1981 until 2008, Siegel ran his Ziv Tzedakah Fund, using the accumulation of donations — many of them small amounts from young people — to benefit all kinds of worthy projects. He closed it last year, saying it had become too large and cumbersome, but he has continued with his mission. He does it by lecturing to groups and through the 29 books he has written, including Mitzvah Magic and The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Book. He has also made a point of finding and celebrating “mitzva heroes” in Israel and in cities all over the world.
Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains had sent a sizable group of sixth- and seventh-graders from the Scotch Plains/Fanwood area to the talk, together with their parents. By last week, the seeds sown last month were already taking root, according to Beth Israel’s education director, Betty Lynn Golub.
Among the students who were inspired to undertake mitzva projects, she said, was Sarah Barash, who offered to buy pajamas for a child in need. She told Golub she always has a drawer full of pajamas, and she was eager to help children who do not.
Student Rachel Voetzel purchased gloves for a homeless man. She said she was excited to buy the gloves “so at least the man’s hands will be warm this winter.”
Rayna Geller chose to purchase a plant for a senior citizens complex. “Plants and flowers,” she said, “always put a smile on people’s faces.”
Janna Rosengarten will donate a car safety seat — because “this seat could save the life of a child.”
Golub said, “The stories that Danny Siegel told truly inspired these girls to undertake different mitzva projects. They realized that they can make a difference in the world through acts of kindness, whether large or small.”
Siegel was delighted by the gathering on the Wilf campus. Asked about it later, he e-mailed NJJN back: “When Linda was first in touch about this event, I told her immediately it was exactly the kind of program I like to do, and she agreed that parents should be invited.”
He said both groups — parents and kids — were very receptive. “I was very pleased with their enthusiasm for both specific projects and for a general approach to finding what suits the bar/bat mitzva person best,” he wrote. “Our evening together made clear to all that grammatically bar/bat mitzva means ‘mitzva person,’ and those who attended seemed ever-so-ready to assume that title.”
He went on to say, “The whole idea of a bar/bat mitzva ‘kid’ doing mitzva projects and donating money to tzedaka as part of the celebration is only about 25 years old, and the sum total of lives that have been radically changed over the years is much too high to calculate.”