Some American Jewish youth choose the spiritual path of traveling to Israel to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Alex Kleiman found his path on a United Jewish Communities' family mission to Israel in August 2005. After visiting an Ethiopian absorption center, he became so deeply moved that he created a Bar Mitzvah project to help Ethiopian Jews.
On Saturday, April 1, when Alex stood on the bimah before family and friends at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, he said taking action to help his brethren made his Bar Mitzvah that much more meaningful.
The seventh-grader from Friends' Central School raised $3,774 through his mitzvah project, a 22-mile bike ride on March 19, accompanied by his dad, Bob Kleiman, and several friends. Alex said he chose 22 miles "in honor of the 22,000 Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to Israel."
The money was donated to Operation Promise, a UJC campaign to integrate and absorb the large number of Ethiopian Jews that have made aliyah. It also helps elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union.
"This illustrates how powerful a family mission can be," said Jeri Zimmerman, director of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, which among its varied initiatives organizes missions to Israel and other countries where Jews are in need. "We are delighted that Alex chose to partner with Federation for his Bar Mitzvah project."
Alex also has a partner in Kenneth Kaiserman, a trustee of the Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Foundation. Kaiserman was so impressed when he heard about Alex's efforts, that he made a personal commitment to match all the funds raised.
"This is a very commendable example, and I hope others will learn from his effort," said Kaiserman. "Learning about responsibility and the responsibility for other Jews is what becoming a B'nai Mitzvah is all about."
"This is a very important issue," said Kaiserman who visited Ethiopia many years ago, and was taken by the plight of the Ethiopian Jews.
Alex traveled to Israel with his parents and 10-year-old brother, Michael. "We chose to visit Israel in part because we thought it would make Alex's upcoming Bar Mitzvah more meaningful," said his mother, Susan Tabor-Kleiman. "I am hopeful that other families will be inspired to visit Israel before a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as it can add so much dimension to the experience."
"We all had the same feeling of awe, joy and wonder just to be in Israel," recalled Alex of the emotions he shared with Ethiopian Jews. "I felt a strong bond; they are Jews, too."
"It was very jarring to see the absorption center," said Bob Kleiman. "Many of the Ethiopian Jews walked thousands of miles for months, and endured tremendous hardship to get to Israel. They lived without modern conveniences, such as electricity or plumbing."
Alex said that he left Israel with a "powerful" feeling that he wanted to do something to help Ethiopian Jews adapt to a society, worlds apart from the rural existence of their homeland: "My mitzvah project is a beginning."
"Alex felt that he could make a little difference," said Bob Kleiman. "If more people made a little difference, then we could build a better world."