July 24, 2024
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Cocoa Bombs, Bat Mitzvahs and Healing

Bat mitzvah fundraiser sells sweets for Israelis with disabilities.

For most Jewish girls, a bat mitzvah means celebrating with friends and family, a party, and a heartwarming speech or two. For Rya Leeds, a sixth-grade student currently attending Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, her bat mitzvah meant raising $7,500 for charity.

While her official celebration had to be postponed due to COVID, Rya, with help from her mother, started a bat mitzvah fundraiser for Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) village for people with disabilities in the Negev (ADI Negev) by selling chocolate bombs.

“Selling cocoa bombs was the big trend,” Rya said. “I asked my mom, who thought it was a great idea, and when we actually started talking about it, she introduced me to ADI Negev.”

The village is a rehabilitative facility in the Negev for individuals with developmental disabilities. With JNF-USA’s support, they are also adding a rehabilitation facility for people suffering from long-term disabilities caused by COVID.

Celine Leeds, Rya’s mother, said: “Rya loved the hot cocoa bombs, and she asked to sell them as a bat mitzvah fundraiser,” she said. “I asked where she wanted to donate the money to, and she suggested a hospital helping people through COVID.”

Celine, who serves on JNF-USA’s disabilities task force, suggested that Rya look into ADI Negev. The facility and their work with disabled individuals immediately struck a chord with Rya.

“I can play sports with my brothers and friends, ride a bike, even walk around the house,” she said. “There’s so much I can do that they can’t, and it didn’t seem fair. I wanted to do something about it.”

Rya did something about it and then some, raising $7,500 in just two months, with 149 orders. With some help from her father, Seth, and brothers, Benjamin, Sammy and Emmanuel, Rya and her mom made 532 hot cocoa bombs, 244 chocolate-covered Oreos, and 238 chocolate-covered pretzels.

While Celine helped every step of the way, she made it clear that it was always her daughter’s project. “Every weekend we were working on it really late Saturday nights after Shabbat was over and Sunday mornings, and then personally delivered every package on Sunday,” she said.

For Rya, who had never worked on a project of this magnitude, the fundraising was tiring, but well worth the effort.

“People were just ordering nonstop, and it was a little stressful to make all of them, but it was also fun,” she said. “A lot of work, but it was good.”

As for Celine, she is extremely proud of her daughter, both for her approach to individuals with disabilities and how she helped them.

“It’s not that she doesn’t see a difference between us and disabled people,” Celine said. “She recognizes the difference but isn’t afraid of it. She respects them for who they are.”

She continued: “I’m proud that she took a popular internet trend that people were interested in and used it to raise money for a worthy cause.”

Despite the initial postponement, Rya’s bat mitzvah party is currently set for June. When asked if she was excited for her bat mitzvah, Rya gave a one-word answer: “Very.”


Rya’s fundraiser is still active. You can donate by visiting www.my.jnf.org/adinegev.

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