Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Many bar and bat mitzvah students find a meaningful way to mark their simcha with a chesed project, but Gavriel Friedbauer’s unique project is fine-tuned to his family’s history, indicating deep family love and sensitivity. Gavriel was inspired by an article he read in The Jewish Link about Dr. Eitan Okun’s research on Alzheimer’s disease at Bar-Ilan University, where they are working on a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s. (See the article at https://tinyurl.com/yboq52dq.)

Gavriel knows about the effects of Alzheimer’s firsthand, as he has a personal connection to the disease. He also knows what a vaccine could mean for the disease’s sufferers and their families. “Thirteen years ago, when I was born, my grandmother Barbara was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 54,” wrote Gavriel in a letter to friends and family. Today, Barbara lives in The Jewish Home at Rockleigh.

“Because my grandmother has this disease, I did not really get to know her before she began losing her memory,” Gavriel explained, noting that his mother, Jill, had shared many lovely stories about Barbara. “My grandmother was a loved Montessori teacher for children in pre-school and kindergarten. She was also an artist. Therefore, I decided to put one of my grandmother’s drawings on a tote bag and sell them to raise money for Alzheimer’s research in honor of my becoming a bar mitzvah,” he wrote. “Although I cannot help my grandmother, I hope to help prevent others from getting this disease in the future,” he added.

This summer, when they visited Israel for Gavriel’s bar mitzvah, Gavriel and his family took time out of their schedule to visit Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and met with Dr. Okun, who took them on a tour of their Paul E. Feder Alzheimer’s Research Lab.

“We don’t get these kinds of visits often, but when they come with such a touching story behind it it is even more special,” said Alona Gringauz, of Bar Ilan. The family stayed for several hours, asking questions, meeting Dr. Okun’s students and seeing hands-on research in the lab.

The tote bag, one of which was presented to Dr. Okun, pays tribute to the wonderful artistic talent of Gavriel’s beloved grandmother; it also showcases a piece of New York City history. Barbara’s brother Robert Rawson explained: “On January 1, 1972, the NYC Transit Authority raised the cost of a subway token from $0.30 to $0.35, the second increase in just two years.” Barbara, then a 21-year-old art student at Queens College, was inspired to draw a poster, poking fun at the NYCTA for raising the fare, which seemed totally unfair considering how awful the subways had become. “The idea of a 50-cent subway fare seemed absolutely ridiculous. And it was prophetic, it was just 32 months later when the NYCTA actually raised the fare to $0.50, which seems like a pittance now,” wrote Rawson.

Those who are interested in donating to this cause and/or would like to purchase a bag, please email [email protected] or visit https://www.gofundme.com/sssm8-alzheimer039s. Each bag is $15, or 2 for $25.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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