A Typical Teen With a Generous Heart

Being on Bala Cynwyd Middle School's soccer and basketball teams, playing the guitar and "just hanging out with friends" are among 13-year-old Amy Blum's favorite activities.

However, it is just as likely that this teen can be found packing and helping deliver food to Jews in need for the Jewish Relief Agency, a project of Chabad Lubavitch, or the Mitzvah Food Pantry of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

This part of her life is so important to Blum that she spent a year prior to her Sept. 25 Bat Mitzvah volunteering and researching "Jewish Poverty in Philadelphia," and using her findings as the focus of her Bat Mitzvah in a presentation at the Jewish Children's Folkshul of Philadelphia on Sept. 25.

In-depth research of a relevant Jewish topic is a B'nai Mitzvah requirement in the Folkshul's community.

"I wanted to answer the question: 'Are there Jewish poor?' " she said. "I live in a prosperous neighborhood and I didn't really know if there were poor Jews."

Before the presentation was over, she had not only answered the question with statistics and examples, but invited her guests to join her for a post-Bat-Mitzvah mitzvah at the Jewish Relief Agency on Oct. 9. Forty friends and family members, including her parents, Diane and Larry Blum, and brother Isaac, 17, participated.

JRA is partly funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Social Responsibility, part of a Federation priority to encourage participation in social-action projects.

Blum was the first participant in JRA's B'nai Mitzvah Program that requires youngsters to volunteer twice in a year with their family and then with family and guests. JRA, which began five years ago, was founded by Rabbi Menachem Schmidt and Marc Erlbaum. Daniel Erlbaum is the current chair.

"I started my research by going to Web sites, such as Federation's www.jewishphilly.org, with my aunt, Rosalind Warren, as my mentor. I needed answers to questions such as: 'Who are the poor Jews? And how can we help them?'

"I met with Rachel Dunaief, the JRA director, I asked her a lot of questions and that led to more questions. She provided us with a Federation report, 'Economic Vulnerability: Jews at Risk,' and we found out that 16 percent of Jews in the area are considered low-income and 7 percent are living below the poverty line."

Blum also shared some of her "hands-on" learning with her guests, describing packing grocery staples "like we were a human conveyor" at JRA. She also told of how candy, small gifts or a small amount of money were pressed into her hand when she delivered the groceries and how JRA had told her to accept what was given "because it makes the people feel less hopeless. It lets them do a mitzvah." JRA encourages volunteers to donate these funds to tzedakah.

She spoke of the contents of a Mitzvah Food Pantry bag of groceries that includes very basic food items, such as cereal, pasta, peanut butter and soup, and told of making deliveries of Shabbat bags and how she and her aunt would stay a while and talk to the recipients.

And how did her guests feel about volunteering with her?

"They told me it was meaningful and fun," answered Blum. "I heard great things and a lot of them wanted to know when they could volunteer again."

As for where the teenager got her inspiration: "It comes from her," said her mother. "She's been asked if her father and I drag her to do community service. Absolutely not. She's the one clamoring to do it."



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