June 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Very Special AMIT Bat Mitzvah Project for Sarina Shields and Family

It’s become almost customary for bar and bat mitzvahs to take on a charitable project or specific cause as a way of celebrating their milestone birthdays. For Sarina Shields of Teaneck, there’s extra meaning behind choosing to align herself with AMIT, the organization dedicated to equipping Israel’s youth to realizing their potential through education, social programming and providing warm, nurturing residences. It is also a way of paying tribute to her aunt, Esther Semmelman, a”h, who was very involved with AMIT up until her passing last year from a decade-long struggle with breast cancer.

Involvement with AMIT has been a family hallmark for several generations. Sarina’s great-grandmother, Shirley Halpern, was involved in her local Brooklyn chapter, and her grandmother, Marcia Holzer, was closely aligned with the Monsey chapter, first, and then served on the national board. An aunt, Norma Holzer, was the national president for many years, and now, her mother, Chana, is a member of the board and serves as its national vice president of marketing.

Chana recalls Esther’s generosity, among many wonderful traits, as particularly exemplary. “She was involved with so many causes, and even with smaller things, like always making a donation to Tomchei Shabbat when she shopped at Glatt Express. It was those kinds of small acts that were indicative of her genuine concern for others.”

Sarina was only six weeks old when Esther was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the Shields were living in Philadelphia at the time. But Chana says the two formed a close bond as Sarina grew older. “I often took Sarina with me to New York to help Esther with her children, David and Alyssa, while she was undergoing treatment,” says Chana. The Shields moved to Teaneck six years ago, and feel privileged and grateful that they were able to spend more time with Esther before she died.

Esther’s husband, Jacques, her children, siblings (Chana, Avram Holzer and Tovah Reich), their families and her parents recently dedicated the Esther Semmelman Decorative Arts Studio at the AMIT Beatrice and Irving Stone Meysharim School in Shoham, Israel, which caters to special-needs children. Students at the school learn various creative skills in order to earn money and contribute to the Israeli workforce and economy. Some of their projects include wooden jewelry boxes, mezuzot, besamim boxes, and jewelry.

“Esther loved the arts and she loved children, so dedicating the art studio was a truly fitting way to honor her memory,” said Chana.

The choice to support AMIT for her bat mitzvah project was obvious, and Sarina has been importing the items made at the school to the U.S. to sell them to peers and community members. Her goal is to raise enough money through this endeavor to purchase more supplies for the art room, including a graphic design computer program so that the students can learn and master that in-demand skill. To date, she has raised over $700.

“It’s heartwarming to see that Sarina has so much of Esther’s character, including her dedication to AMIT,” said Chana, who admits there is a “tremendous hole” in her heart because of Esther’s absence  in both helping her to plan and celebrate the occasion. “I always looked to Esther for advice and guidance, and she was an amazing mother. Trying to measure up to her might be futile, but I’m grateful that she influenced me to be a better mother and to always be my children’s cheerleader and advocate during the time she was here.”

Another upcoming event, the AMIT Annual Dinner on November 10th at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers, will also pay tribute to Esther’s memory. Chana and her husband Daniel are also among the dinner’s honorees.

“Chana and Daniel Shields are representatives of a true AMIT family and long-time supporters who have contributed substantially to our organization and to the betterment of the lives of hundreds of children in Israel,” said Debbie Isaac, AMIT’s president. “It’s fitting that their daughter Sarina is continuing to epitomize the family’s signature generosity and dedication.”

For Chana, the opportunity to help underprivileged children and offer them some of the same opportunities that are available to children in Teaneck, who attend some of the best Jewish day schools in the country, is of paramount importance.

“Helping to even the playing field for the children in the network of AMIT schools is essential and can help break the cycle of poverty that many of the children belong to and allow them to become contributing members to Israeli society,” she explained.

People interested in purchasing items in Sarina’s inventory can visit AMIT’s website at www.amitchildren.org and click on the “gifts” and then “bar/bat mitzvah” tab to find Sarina’s page.

By Tova Ross

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles