Dan Levin is pretty sure his wife arranged the break in the weather for the June 2 Walk for Dawn at the Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County.
The entire student body, joined by staff and administrators as well as many parents, participated in the event, which raised funds for a village school in South Africa and honored the memory of a tireless volunteer for the Randolph day school.
Dawn Levin, whose son Ross is an eighth-grader, died unexpectedly on Jan. 19, shortly after Ross’s December bar mitzva.
What began as his mitzva project became a fund-raiser for the entire school; it kicked off the newly named Dawn Levin Volunteer Appreciation Day, which has been an annual event at HAMC.
Dawn, who suffered from limb girdle muscular dystrophy, invested much of her time in volunteer efforts at the school and in the community — at their synagogue, Adath Shalom in Parsippany, and with the local firehouse, all in addition to writing several blogs.
Both his parents helped Ross plan the project in support of the Katlego Creche preschool in Rooiboklaagte, a rural village in northeastern South Africa, the country that Dan and Dawn were both originally from.
“Both Dawn and I very much wanted Ross to get involved in something not just…for the year of his bar mitzva, but to be involved in something ongoing,” Levin said. “Ross is 13. He needs to understand that he has a privileged life and part of who we are is to return part of what we have.”
Last week’s walk and activities raised $2,800 for Katlego Creche. Combined with other gifts from friends, family, and the community, Levin said, they have already raised enough to secure the building’s doors and windows with locks and bars. Improving the facilities at Katlego Creche will eventually enable the school to register with the municipality to receive assistance, including hot lunches for the children.
The Levins hope to continue raising money to provide tables, chairs, and carpeting for the school. They hope to install an outhouse — the one there now is so far from the building that most students use the yard instead. And they plan to help bring in running water for children to drink and cook with.
After the walk, as Ross sat with friends in an HAMC office, they reflected on the experience. Eighth-grader Julian Biller of Parsippany said, “It was really special. It’s one thing to have Ross’s friends walking with him. But this wasn’t just a few friends — it was the whole class. And it wasn’t just the whole class — it was the whole school.”
Ross expressed his gratitude to the HAMC community. “The school really helped me and my family get through this hardship better than any other school could,” he said. “Kids at public schools probably get cards. But they wouldn’t feel like the school was their second family like I do here.”
For Dan Levin, the day was difficult but gratifying. “I don’t know how to put into words how to thank a community that has been so supportive. When they came up with the idea of getting everyone involved with supporting the school in South Africa, it was amazing. It was really something that shows a lot about this school.”
The fund-raiser was a centerpiece in the school’s annual celebration of its many volunteers — although, said Levin, his wife never sought recognition for doing what she considered a mitzva.
“She would have said, ‘Don’t go to the trouble.’ She never wanted recognition,” said Levin. “I always had to drag her out for these things. She was very much a doer, getting on with it, doing what was necessary.
“Part of being Jewish is that it’s not about the recognition, but about getting things done, and we’re like that.”