Earlier this year, 12-year-old DJ Freeman found himself pondering a question many Jewish boys his age find themselves debating: he was interested in doing a bar mitzvah chesed project, but he didn’t know what to do. He went back and forth between a few ideas but nothing seemed to resonate until he saw an article in The Jewish Link about soldiers wanting to wear tefillin in the war against Hamas.
DJ was also impacted by the story of Ariel Zohar. On the morning of Oct. 7, Ariel went out for a run and while he was gone Hamas murdered his father, mother, two older sisters and his maternal grandfather. Ariel was 12 at the time, just like DJ, and was to become bar mitzvah in two weeks. His parents had even bought the tefillin for the occasion, but when it came time, Ariel decided instead to wear his father’s own pair, which were a gift from his grandfather who survived the Holocaust.
This all struck a chord with DJ, and he decided to incorporate the mitzvah of tefillin into his bar mitzvah project.
“Since I’m going to be putting on tefillin for my bar mitzvah, I want to help others do the same,” DJ continued. “There are Israeli soldiers on the front lines in Gaza who want tefillin, and so I’m raising money to supply them with their own pairs.”
DJ launched his fundraiser last month and was immediately hit with a flood of donations. He had set a goal of raising $10,000, and swiftly surpassed it thanks in part due to one extremely generous donation.
“One person anonymously donated $5,000 and that just meant the world to me,” DJ continued. “I was surprised; I never expected someone to be so generous, and it showed me that people really care about this cause. Now that we’ve hit the goal, we’re hoping to push it as far as we can so we can buy even more tefillin pairs for the soldiers.”
That donation in question was accompanied by the following message: “DJ and family — I do not know you, but I am overwhelmed that a bar mitzvah boy would do this project to help our soldiers. I bless you that you grow to be a strong, proud soldier in Hashem’s army!”
As for DJ’s own bar mitzvah plans, he and his family hope to go to Israel early next year for his hanachat tefillin ceremony. At the ceremony, DJ will be donning the tefillin of his late grandfather who passed away from COVID. DJ’s grandfather had always taken pride in his tefillin and DJ hopes to carry on its legacy as he becomes bar mitzvah.
Rabbi Josh Friedman is the founder of Israel Select Charity Fund, which is managing the tefillin drive. He shared his immense pride in DJ’s accomplishment and stressed the importance of continuing support for Israel during this time.
“The tefillin not only helps Israeli soldiers feel closer to God, it boosts their morale tremendously,” Friedman shared. “I’ve spoken with numerous soldiers who have said ‘I have a bulletproof vest, I have a gun, but I’m not going into Gaza without tefillin.’ And so having tefillin makes a huge difference, and we want to send as many pairs as we can.”
For those boys approaching bar mitzvah age themselves and considering their own chesed projects, DJ has the following words to share:
“If you have a good idea, go for it. You can make more of an impact than you might think, and people will be so tremendously grateful. For me, it feels amazing to just know that I’m making a difference, and I hope that these tefillin bring comfort and strength to the soldiers on the front lines. Everyone who donated is a part of this and I’m so grateful for their help.”
To donate to DJ’s fundraiser, visit thechesedfund.com/israelselect/tefillin/teams/djfreeman.
Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at www.adamssoapbox.com.