Names: Tali Bornstein and Levi Schulman
Schools: Cocopah Middle School and Scottsdale Prep, respectively
Synagogue: Temple Chai
Date of b'nai mitzvah: June 25, 2012
Describe your mitzvah project: We commissioned custom kippot and bracelets from Kippot for Hope - a project of the Ugandan Abayudaya Jewish community (kippotforhope.org) and sold them, with proceeds benefiting two projects supervised by NACOEJ (North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry).
Why did you choose this project? From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to support African Jews in some capacity. Our interest in Africa was sparked with our moms' involvement with Darfur Darfur back in 2007 ("Portraits of Darfur," Jewish News, May 11, 2007). We spend every Passover together and felt a connection to the Exodus story, especially as it relates to Ethiopian Jews.
What was the process of getting the project off the ground? Working on a custom project through an organization in Uganda proved very challenging. It took many weeks to finalize our design and get the items into production. The Abayudaya community lives many hours away from the Kippot for Hope office in Kampala, Uganda, and does not have a reliable Internet connection (or electricity for that matter). We wanted to have a personal connection to our project and NACOEJ's New York office helped us to find Tigist Bitau, a student in need of sponsorship. Tigist is a 14-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli track star and knowing our money would help someone our age made the decision very easy. We also decided to give money to NACOEJ's Limudiah program, which offers after-school tutoring to Ethiopian-Israeli students in grades 1-4.
Describe the work you've had to do to complete the project. We made a flier and sold the kippot and bracelets to friends, family and Temple Chai members, made a presentation to our Hebrew school class and participated in vendor shows at Temple Chai.
How do you hope your project will affect the people it's designed to benefit? Having met Tigist when we were in Israel for our b'nai mitzvah, it is wonderful to imagine her receiving all the coaching and equipment she needs to achieve her dreams; she hopes to someday compete in the Olympics for Israel. As for the money going to Limudiah, it is incredible to imagine how many kids we can help.
What have you learned from your project? Though we knew it before we started, this project confirmed how fortunate we are. The Abayudaya in Uganda do not have the basics: running water, electricity, cars, etc., and their community lives in stick-and-mud homes. The Ethiopian-Israeli students have so many challenges that they often do not perform at grade level. We understand more clearly the struggles kids our age have in other parts of the world. Knowing we can help make their lives easier is very motivating.