To mark her bat mitzvah, Hannah Cohen, a student at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy in Stamford, organized a chesed project with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) in which families in the Stamford community could buy two bouquets of flowers for $72—one for themselves as a pre-Shavuot gift and one for a widow who had lost a husband in Israel.
When it came time for Hannah to choose an organization for her bat mitzvah project, she instantly knew that she wanted to help the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Hannah wrote in her email to the community, “The IDF is a huge inspiration to me because it helps keep our homeland safe. While we are sitting here comfortably, there are many soldiers guarding the borders of Israel, whether they are on land, in the air, or in the sea.”
As FIDF famously states: “The soldiers’ job is to look after Israel; our job is to look after the soldiers.” Hannah knew this was the organization she wanted to support.
Originally, Hannah was raising money for IDF soldiers by selling FIDF merchandise at their dinners, and she raised over $500 at those events. However, when COVID-19 struck, the dinners were canceled, so Hannah readjusted her mission and moved to Plan B.
When Hannah spoke to Anat Chavkin, the director of the Westchester and Connecticut division of the FIDF, Chavkin mentioned the idea of giving flowers to widows of Israeli soldiers, and Hannah fell in love with the idea right away. Flowers were more meaningful, personal and tangible than just raising money. Over the course of a month, Hannah worked with Chavkin and Oren Shapiro, whose floral business helped provide the flowers. In order to spread the message, Hannah made an announcement on the loudspeaker at her school, posted a message on the school bulletin board and sent an email to the greater Stamford Jewish community, while her mother, Meredith, posted on her own social media pages. Hannah noted that it wasn’t hard to sell the flowers because they received such a great response.
When it came time, Hannah picked up the flowers from Chavkin’s house and handed them out in the parking lot of her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Shalom, along with her mother and her sister. Hannah described the process to be not only successful but immensely enjoyable as well. After families in Israel started receiving the flowers, two women sent a video to Hannah thanking her, which, Hannah said with a smile, made her feel like she had done something truly worthwhile.
“The ability for Hannah to make a meaningful impact on the lives of Israeli widows who lost a loved one in service in the IDF was so rewarding for her and for us,” said Hannah’s mother, Meredith. “This project exceeded our expectations in terms of the reward she would get out of it, the response from friends, family and those in our community, and how much of an impact she could make on the women in Israel in need of some cheer and emotional support, especially during a time of unrest in Israel. We have tremendous gratitude to Anat Chavkin and her team from the FIDF who helped us lead this initiative.”
Hannah was thrilled that her project raised over $5,000 in total. When asked about the project, Hannah stated that it “exceeded my expectations.”
Julianne Katz is a rising senior at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy and a summer intern at The Jewish Link.