I am writing this post on my laptop in Netanya on February 18, 2013; just after returning from a wonderful evening celebrating with the ladies of Lev LaLev in Israel. I wanted to make sure to share my experience with you right away…

The gala bat mitzvah was held in a brand new hall in Netanya, ours was the first event ever to be held there in fact!

The evening started off with an appetizer spread of salads and bread and hot stations of chicken, meatballs, moroccan couscous, and thai noodles. The 19 bat mitzvah girls from the Home where announced one by one to take the stage in front of their adoring fans. Each girl wore beautiful custom matching pale pink gowns, but with their style added. Some gowns had sequins, other silk rosettes, some had both. Each had their hair done in gorgeous updos or styled in intricate ringlets. They looked like princesses!

Then the 3 Lev LaLev bat mitzvah girls: Rachel Piontnica, Sarina Hilowitz, and Jemma Lifschitz, who helped sponsor the gala as part of their mitzvah projects, joined their new friends on stage too!

There was a special candle lighting ceremony where the girls spoke in groups, after which each bat mitzvah girl received a gift of a beautifully wrapped new siddur, and tehillim, each with a special message written inside, from Rachel Piontnica.

I spoke to the guests, and made sure to extend mazel tov wishes on behalf of the entire Lev LaLev family from around the world. The girls were so thankful! Many came up to me afterwards to say thank you in person, and to pass on their thanks to you! They also wished a mazel tov and gave a hug to the mitzvah project girls each time they walked by them.

Next there was a musical performance and dance while the guests ate the main course. No one went home hungry! With a first course of fish and mashed potatoes, followed by rice and a choice of chicken or beef, finished off by a dessert of sorbet and fruit. The performances were so professional, and the costumes so expertly made, you would have thought the girls had months, rather than the 10 days they actually used to prepare; it never ceases to amaze me to see what these girls can accomplish together!

Then they played the most amazing video of all the girls at the Home singing: “We are the world. We are the children,” which was recorded during their own private studio session, and video footage showed the girls playing and laughing at the Home, and dancing together along the beautiful shores of Netanya. It was such a beautiful film and was a wonderful way to lead into the joyous dancing that ensued.

The girls pulled everyone into the circle to join in the enthusiastic dancing. Everyone was made to feel at home and welcome, and all I could see was a sea of smiling faces as the bus pulled up to bring the girls back to the Children’s Home, though I’m sure many were too excited to sleep!

Thank you all so much for making this night possible, it was such a special evening that I know I, and the girls are the Home, will always treasure.

Mazel Tov!

Sheena Levi

P.S. Please enjoy this video of photos and clips from the Bat Mitzvah Gala.

Sheena at her bat mitzvah in El Paso, Texas, June 1997.
originally published on January 30, 2013 on the Jewish Women's Archive: Jewesses with Attitude blog
by Sheena Levi

When I was brought on board at the Lev LaLev Fund in May 2011, I was asked if I could run the bat mitzvah project program. I thought, sure, how hard could it be? I was once a bat mitzvah girl too after all. Yet, a year later, as I was writing about the 15th anniversary of my own bat mitzvah in my e-newsletter to the bat mitzvah girls, I finally realized just how much had changed in that short amount of time.

Back in 1997 all I was worried about was my speech and outfit. My parents took care of the food, venue, invitations, decorations, music, etc. I was lucky to be the oldest in my class, so I didn’t feel like I had to "keep up with the Steins" after attending my schoolmates' grand bar and bat mitzvahs. The one thing missing from all of our "coming of age" ceremonies, however, was a mitzvah project.

Today mitzvah kids, or more often their parents, have to worry about finding a chesed project. I think this is a wonderful way to bring the bar/bat mitzvah back to the true celebration of a pre-teen, who takes upon themselves the responsibility of the mitzvot, including the important: tzedekah, chesed, and tikun olam.

Something I have noticed recently, however, is the trend to do the mitzvah project because it’s just “what’s done.” More focus is placed on the theme decor, walk-in music, slideshow, and finding the perfect goodie to give guests; often the mitzvah project is relegated to the proverbial dark corner of the sparkling, venue space. Don’t get me wrong, the bar/bat mitzvah party has been a boisterous ceremony since I can remember, but it never had to compete with a mitzvah project before.

Perhaps this comes from not recognizing the full potential of a bat mitzvah project, nor fully tapping into the capabilities of our 12 and 13 year-olds. Compounding the situation, in the case of  bat mitzvah, there are no traditional markings to celebrate the day. Boys purchase their first pair of tefillin, learn to lain from the Torah, and can be counted as part of a minyan throughout the Jewish community. Girls, of course, are able to do this in many communities as well. But, I wonder, can the bat mitzvah have its own special traditions?

I was the first woman in my family to ever celebrate an official bat mitzvah. Everything was new, but if I could go back, I would have taken my artistic talents and love of music, and asked my synagogue to let me host a women’s talent show night. Maybe I would have asked for donations from the community for a raffle. Maybe I would have donated the proceeds from the admission and raffle funds to charity. Who can say no to a 12 year-old after all?

bat mitzvah of the orphans, Netanya, Israel 2008.
Don’t believe it’s possible for a 12 year-old to make a difference? I have worked with two bat mitzvah girls who were able to raise $6,000 producing a fashion show. Another was able to partner with her local Jewish federation to raise over $10,000. Yet another raised $1,000 by hosting youth groups during her Passover break. All the funds went to support orphaned girls in Israel.

Some of the bat mitzvah girls I work with will even be joining me as I travel to Israel to celebrate the bat mitzvah of 17 of the orphaned girls who live at the Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home. Can you imagine the meaning these girls will attribute to their own bat mitzvah efforts in the years to come!?

Every generation sees new growth in how we define “bat mitzvah.” My mother didn’t celebrate the day beyond a regular birthday party. I celebrated the day with my community. Today bat mitzvah girls use their talents to celebrate the day with the global community. What will happen in the next generation?

Will our daughters look back and remember not only how awesome their bat mitzvah was but ALSO be inspired? Will they remember that is was the first time, of hopefully a lifetime, of giving? And will they have recognized that they had the opportunity to really make a difference?

To explore JWA's website for girls, visit MyBatMitzvahStory.org. "Like" MyBatMitzvahStory on Facebookto get daily updates about bat mitzvah, cool Jewish women, and more!

Add your comment on the original JWA blog post

Article originally posted on 9/10/12 on Yaldah.com

Mazel Tov to Tonni Schmuckler on winning the Yaldah Magazine Bat Mitzvah Essay Contest! Read and comment on her winning essay below!

Bat Mitzvah:
Celebration or Delegation?

by Tonni Schmuckler, age 14, from Montreal

A graduation celebrates a completion of studies and freedom of tests and homework. A birthday celebrates another year of life. A Bat Mitzvah celebrates a Jewish girl’s newfound responsibility to Torah and Mitzvot. If you think of it, the oddest celebration in a Jewish girl’s life is her Bat Mitzvah. And yet, it’s the most celebrated. Why someone would want to be Bat Mitzvah puzzles many people.

Before a girl’s twelfth birthday, she is not held accountable for anything. Any Mitzvot she does are under the category of Chinuch (education) and are merits, not obligations. Once she enters the coveted category of Bat Mitzvah, everything changes since she is now obligated to fulfill G-d’s commandments. Which is why a Bat Mitzvah celebration may seem so odd.

So why celebrate? Why celebrate responsibility and obligation? Life is much easier without it. Why pay for something when you’ve been getting it for free?

The answer is simple: The Torah is not an obligation. One may look at it like one, but it’s far from it. G-d’s Torah is more that just a rulebook, it’s the map of life. Life is full of twists and turns, so the gift of the “GPS of life” is not only useful for a girl on the brink of adulthood; it’s downright appropriate.

Not only is the Torah a guidebook, it’s the blueprint of the world. It’s also G-d’s birthday present to each and every Jewish girl. The Creator of The World entrusts the Bat Mitzvah with His most precious object, the Torah. He trusts her! The gift and His trust are definitely worth a celebration.

Unlike your average birthday present, the Torah is the gift that keeps giving. When a Jew takes on the Mitzvot, he takes on peace of mind as well. The knowledge that by following the Torah he can’t go wrong is comforting and helpful in the frenzy of today’s turbulent society.

Besides, becoming a Bat Mitzvah is like joining a club. It’s joining a group of people who follow G-d’s commandments and have a purpose. Up until now, you’ve been a bystander. As of your twelfth birthday, you are a full-fledged member. So a Bat Mitzvah is not only a celebration of G-d’s trust and gift, it’s your inauguration to a people whose purpose is to spread light. In a way, it’s your own personal Matan Torah (receiving of the Torah).

A Bat Mitzvah is not something celebrated on just your twelfth birthday; it’s something you celebrate constantly. Two years ago I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah, and I’m still celebrating today. Happy Bat Mitzvah! Welcome to the club!

Name: Lisa Stein
Allentown, PA
Bat Mitzvah Date:
May 2012
Mitzvah Project:

Part 1 – Raising money online for a girl from the Rubin-Zeffren home to have a Bat Mitzvah celebration
Part 2 – Talent Show to raise money for the music program at the girls’ home

Tell us a little about yourself
I am 13 years old. I play the cello and sing and love music! I have an older brother who is starting college. He’s a great violinist, and we enjoy playing music together, especially at erev Shabbat services at our synagogue. In school, I enjoy orchestra, math, creative writing and working with my school’s TV station. I also like to ride my bicycle with my Dad and take photos with my Mom.

How did you decide to take on this particular project for Lev LaLev?
When searching for a mitzvah project, I was sure that I wanted to pick a project that somehow related to helping other children. My family had been buying Rosh Hashanah cards from Lev LaLev. When writing one of the cards and admiring the beautiful drawing on the front of the card, I asked my mom who had drawn it. She said a child probably the same age as me or younger had created the artwork; I was surprised and intrigued.

I looked at the Lev LaLev website and found tons of information about the orphanage. Most of the girls there were abused and did not feel safe at home. Lev LaLev takes them in as their own, and the girls are finally able to feel happy and secure in their new home. One of the many interesting facts that I found is that a Bat Mitzvah can be sponsored. Everything fell into place; I wanted to help another child, and the girls at this orphanage do not get the privilege of a Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration as I do. 

What was the most meaningful part of doing this Mitzvah Project for your Bat Mitzvah?
It was seeing the pure happiness on the Bat Mitzvah girls’ face when Sheena sent me pictures from her celebration. As soon as I saw her joy, I knew I had helped make a change in her life.

Please share any details or fond memories of your Mitzvah Project and Bat Mitzvah.
I was amazed that the donations kept pouring in relatively constantly, and I was really able to raise more than $1,800. I enjoyed being lifted up in a chair during my celebration on Saturday night and then seeing a picture of my Bat Mitzvah twin being lifted up in a chair during her celebration. I also loved seeing so many of my friends and family at my services and party.  

What are your plans for the future, i.e. life after Bat Mitzvah?
I am going to host the talent show in October to raise some money for the music program at the orphanage. From there on, I hope to continue my Jewish lifestyle and raise money for important causes.  

Anything else you would like to share about your experience with Lev LaLev, Bat Mitzvah or Mitzvah Project?
Sheena and Chavi have been so supportive and sweet throughout the whole experience, so if you have any questions about your project, contact them!

Please share your advice for a girl looking into doing a Mitzvah Project for her Bat Mitzvah.
Follow your heart, and you will help the hearts of others.

Join Lisa on October 14th, share your talent and support the music program at the orphanage in Israel!  
(left to right) Sheena holding the necklaces made for the girls in Israel, Racheli with her special Lev LaLev mitzvah plaque, and Racheli’s mom Bernice in the Lev LaLev offices
Name: Racheli Wolicki
  Spring Valley, NY
Bat Mitzvah Date:
June 2012
Mitzvah Project:
Decorating pencils and making necklaces for the orphaned girls in Israel

Tell us a little about yourself.
I take karate every Monday and Thursday. I have an older brother and a younger sister. 

How did you decide to take on this particular project for Lev LaLev?
I really wanted to help disadvantaged people, especially girls my age, who don’t have as much as me. This seemed like a good idea and it was.

What was the most meaningful part of doing this Mitzvah Project for your Bat Mitzvah?
Getting to help make the girls happy and give them something nice.

Please share any details or fond memories of your Mitzvah Project and Bat Mitzvah.
My friends and family really enjoyed doing the project at my Bat Mitzvah. They really enjoyed being creative with the pencils and writing the heartfelt notes to the orphans.

What are your plans for the future, i.e. life after Bat Mitzvah?
I plan to try and do mitzvahs every chance I get and try to help people whenever I can.

Anything else you would like to share about your experience with Lev LaLev, Bat Mitzvah or Mitzvah Project?
It was a really great experience knowing that we were not only having a good time, but also thinking about others. It made my Bat Mitzvah so much more meaningful.

Please share your advice for a girl looking into doing a Mitzvah Project for her Bat Mitzvah.
Do it, because it gives you a great feeling and you will feel so great afterwards.

In 3 short weeks we will be celebrating Rosh Hashana. Please help us make it a great year for the Lev LaLev orphans!

Every year, Lev LaLev sells beautiful hand-drawn cards to help spread joy for the upcoming Jewish New Year. All proceeds go to benefit the Orphanage in Israel. 

And YOU can help!

Email or Print out this special flyer and share it with your family, friends, in your home community, synagogues, schools, the JCC, etc.

Send me a picture (email: sheena@levlalev.com) of you next to flyers you posted and get 5 free Rosh Hashana cards with your own order from www.levlalev.com/rhcards  

Thanks for being such awesome Beyond Bat Mitzvah ladies! 

originally posted on 08/02/2012 by Leah Caras on yaldah.com
Tell us what becoming a Bat Mitzvah means to you, and  you could win a beautiful sterling silver key necklace!

We’re looking for an essay 400-700 words from a girl who has either already celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, or is looking forward to celebrating it in the future. The essay should be either a reflection of the importance of becoming a Bat Mitzvah and how it has affected your life, or what you are looking forward to about becoming a Bat Mitzvah and what you expect to learn and gain from the experience.

Eligibility: Author must be a Jewish girl age 8-15
Essay Guidelines: 

1. Essay should be written in the first person.

2. It should be between 400-700 words.

3. It should focus on the significance of becoming a Jewish woman, not the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah party.

To Enter: Submit your essay using the form below or email to submit@yaldah.com. When you email a submission, make sure to include the entrant’s full name, date of birth, state, and  e-mail address. Entries must be received by August 31, 2012.

Judging: Essays will be judged as follows: 40% content, 30% relevance to topic, 20% creativity, 10% spelling & grammar.

Prize: The grand prize winner will win a sterling silver “key” necklace (pictured above) from The Sterling Society.  The pendant is 1.45 inches and comes with a choice of a 16” or 18” Italian chain. The winning essay will also be published in YALDAH magazine. A number of “runner-up” essays will be published in the Bat Mitzvah section of www.yaldah.com.

Prize is sponsored by The Sterling Society. To receive 10% off your purchase at TheSterlingSociety.com use the promo code YALDAH10.
Exclusive Interview from Lev LaLev “Inside Our Home” editor, Chava Yelloz

No matter how neat and organized a household is and regardless of a child’s perfect parental model, let’s face it, kids do mess up. Sheina Goldman, a 10 ½ year old bubbly young lady, who just completed 5th grade admits, with a healthy chuckle, that her room was messy, well, cluttered, for sure - but would not confess that it was chaotic.

It’s not that Sheina did not straighten up her room once in a while, she says, in all honesty, “I tried to do my best.” What was her best method of cleanup, Lev LaLev inquired? “Well I sort of threw everything in the closet, but then eventually, I had to take everything out and organize it.” Sheina adds that she was able to locate her things when it was a mess – since it was her personal mess. But, then her day of reckoning finally came. Her parents made her do a bit of research online to find out the value of all the articles she had strewn about on her room’s floor and desk.

Sheina’s room – after photo
Sheina, who’s going on 11, just completed the fifth grade at the Bay Laurel School in Calabasas, a suburb of Los Angeles. This fall she will begin 6th grade at the A.C. Stelle Middle School. She is the younger sister of 14-year-old Mara, who’s room can also get messy – but who’s comparing?

So, what was in such disarray on Sheina’s floor, desk, chair and any other available surface in her bedroom?

Sheina was given an assignment by her parents ~ make a list, and research the value of all the stuff scattered about.

Sheina explained that she collected items from her floor like 2 pairs of designer brand jeans, one of which was a pair of 7 For All Mankind – costing about $160 on sale. Her floor also decorated with pajamas, shoes and more items that she does not wish to elaborate on. And then there was the disorder all over her desk – pens, erasers, papers, clips – “anything you can think of…” Sheina sighs.

The next step of Sheina’s homework was to calculate the full worth of everything she had sprinkled around her room. Please see the letter she wrote to Lev LaLev displayed here.

Read Sheina’s e-mail to Lev LaLev- Click HERE  

Sheina’s three-pronged assignment was now coming full circle. All she needed to do was find a worthy charity and to donate a percentage of her allowance. This was not a punishment at all, it was just a lesson in awareness. Giving tzedakah was a show of gratitude, Sheina tells us, for all that she has. She continued by saying, “I wanted to donate money to Jewish girls who would really appreciate having things like I do.”

Matthew Rosenbluth, a member of the board of the Rosenbluth Family Foundation, who married Sheina’s mother, Dr. Sophie Shirin just two weeks ago, is already a proud Lev LaLev supporter, who recommended the Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home as a good candidate for Sheina’s charitable endeavor.

Our featured young philanthropist will spend 3 weeks in day camp this summer where she will enjoy summer activities, especially socializing.  Sheina says, “I have fun spending time just talking with my friends.”

More About Sheina:

She takes weekly piano and guitar lessons from the same teacher. She tells LLL that she receives instruction on each instrument for 20 minutes and that she practices daily. She loves to play popular music. She has been playing the piano for the past 5 years and is studying guitar for 2 years.

She favors language arts and likes composition writing on assigned topics.

Her favorite color: “sort of a bright green.”

Lev La Lev applauds Sheina Goldman and her extended family for directing Sheina to help the precious girls at the Rubin-Zeffren Home.

To learn how YOU can help girls at the Home, click here

Portraits of the Bat Mitzvah girls at the last gala event in 2008
This time next year, aside from the end of the school year and the prospect of summer camp trips, the girls at the Rubin-Zeffren Children's Home in Netanya, Israel will have one more thing to look forward to…Lev LaLev is bringing back the annual Bat Mitzvah celebration!

After a few year hiatus, in which the Bat Mitzvah program focused on individual sponsoring, the Home is now going back to an annual large gala Bat Mitzvah celebration format.

Similar to the past format, the girls at the Home who will become Bat Mitzvah in the following year will celebrate their milestone together in a single gala ceremony. 

 The event will take place each summer and enable the girls to invite many more of their own guests, including school friends, friends from before they came to the Home and extended family – an opportunity which they enjoy immensely. 

Even the younger girls at the Home look forward to the event, where they use their creativity and talents to develop dances and perform plays for the Bat Mitzvah girls and their guests.

And, of course, the entire Lev LaLev and Beyond Bat Mitzvah family is invited to join in on the fun, and help prepare for the day too! 

Supporters can help sponsor one Bat Mitzvah girl in the group or the whole simcha and will be included in the special booklet wishing all the girls a Mazal Tov on their special day. The booklet will have profiles of each Bat Mitzvah girl with a list of their sponsors as well as ad space, which can also be sold by Beyond Bat Mitzvah girls to help raise funds for the event. 

It is an exciting opportunity for everyone involved in this amazing milestone event!

The next gala celebration is being planned for June or July 2013. How wonderful it would be if you could join us! I look forward to your questions, thoughts and ideas to make it the best ever…Mazal Tov!

Sheena Levi
Lev LaLev Director of Outreach

Ready for the Runway Show
After months of planning, on Sunday May 20, 2012 friends Naomi Citron and Noa Horvitz joined forces and blew the Manhattan fashion community away with their joint Bat Mitzvah Fashion Show Fundraiser held at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan. 

Even up to the last few days before the event the young ladies continued to receive sponsors to help them with their event. So many amazing organizations got involved to donate their services, including food and raffle items, that the girls were able to raise over $5,000 entirely in profit of which 100% is going to benefit the Clothing Fund at the Children’s Home in Netanya!

Over 150 guests were in attendance where Naomi and Noa’s friends modeled clothing designs from Elie Tahari (who himself was raised in an Israeli orphanage), Boutique Volfe and Diva Kids. Guests participated in fashion sketching workshops and enjoyed raffles of designer jewelry from Jewelista, makeup and skin care products from Sisley-Paris, and Shimi 2 Zumba gift cards. Everyone munched on delicious food from My Most Favorite Food restaurant and Chocolate Works NYC, sponsored in part by ASG Real Estate.

Naomi & Noa with Lev LaLev’s Chaya Feuerman (center)
The event was so inspiring and the girls brought so many people together that Jewelista was even inspired to donate 20% of proceeds from items bought on their website, http://www.jewelista.com/, to Lev LaLev! 

Just enter offer code Lev2012 at checkout (valid until December 2012) and Lev LaLev will receive 20% of the sale!

Our heartfelt thanks and Mazal Tov wishes go to the amazing Bat Mitzvah girls Naomi and Noa and their families!

You can still help Naomi and Noa benefit disadvantaged girls in Israel by visiting their donation landing page: www.levlalev.com/fashionforpassion