July 21, 2024
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Say Yes to the Dress: Project Ezrah’s Bat Mitzvah Dress Gemach

Every bat mitzvah girl dreams of wearing the perfect dress, but the perfect dress is not always easy to find. Renee Schneier learned that firsthand when her only daughter was preparing for her bat mitzvah. Renee, a former childrens’ wear designer, went shopping with her daughter for a dress and was faced with many challenges. Finding the right fit, color and style can be complicated, often forcing people to design custom made pieces. Add a hefty price tag and the whole process can become quite stressful. Renee realized that many others shared a similar experience and this prompted her to start a bat mitzvah dress gemach.

Most girls wear a dress or a gown to celebrate a bat mitzvah and never wear it again. Renee was happy to share her daughter’s dress and thought maybe others would feel the same way. She started to spread the word about the gemach hoping people would consider donating a gently worn dress to the collection. “Donating a dress is an ideal way to perform a mitzvah while at the same time helping others find their perfect dress,” Renee expressed.

In an attempt to expand the gemach, Renee has reached out to local schools, encouraging them to share the details with middle school girls who would possibly need a dress or have a dress to donate. Through Project Ezrah, those who donate a dress to the gemach will receive a thank you letter for tax deduction purposes. “The bat mitzvah gemach is another example of our community stepping up to share in our common mission,” said Robert Hoenig, executive director, Project Ezrah. “Mrs. Schneier has initiated this successful program, providing much-needed assistance to many families.”

The gemach offers dresses and gowns in various colors, styles and sizes. The dresses are meant for bat mitzvah-aged girls, but there is a wide range of sizes available. Occasionally girls will visit the gemach hoping to find a dress to wear to a sibling’s wedding, which is also fine, explained Renee. When borrowing a dress one is allowed to do minor alterations as needed. All Renee asks is that the dress is returned dry cleaned and in the condition in which it was borrowed. For your convenience, she recommends VIP cleaners (973-685-4227), as they will pick up the dress from you and return it to the gemach at no additional charge. Additionally, if you mention that the dress is from the gemach, Steve from VIP will give you a discounted price. Dresses should be returned to the gemach within 10 days of your simcha.

Jewish Link contributor Sarah Abenaim recently celebrated her daughter’s bat mitzvah and had this to say about her experience with the gemach: “Renee was an absolute pleasure to work with. She was extremely flexible and had a lot of availability to meet with us. She warmly welcomed us into her home to try on dresses and was very helpful in selecting the perfect one. The whole process of making a simcha can be stressful, especially when trying to make a dress from scratch or buying the perfect one, while not butting heads with your daughter. It can require many hours of time that not everyone has. I wanted to ease this process and so we headed to the dress gemach to see some ready-made pieces that were already tailored for pre-teen sizes. My daughter was simply beaming at her choice!”

Renee would like to acknowledge Mrs. Vann who has been running the Fair Lawn gemach for quite some time and has been an excellent resource. Mrs. Vann has helped Renee obtain necessary supplies such as garment bags, and will often refer people to Renee who visit the Fair Lawn gemach and cannot find what they are looking for. Renee also wants to express hakarat hatov to the many community members who helped her turn the vision of the dress gemach into a reality.

Word of the gemach has reached other communities as well, inspiring many to participate by donating a dress. Ruthie Stavsky, eighth-grade guidance counselor at SAR Academy, heard about the dress gemach and thought it represents the Torah values that SAR strives to instill in students. “The importance of mitzvot ‘bein adam l’hashem and bein adam l’chaveiro’ are fundamental principles we teach our students,” said Stavsky. She invited Renee to speak to the eighth-grade girls and share her story about how the gemach was created, and more importantly, how meaningful it is for both the donor and the receiver. Stavsky stressed to students the message of how one person can make a real difference, and how the dress gemach is an excellent example of that philosophy.

Neima Fein of Riverdale, a former SAR student who is now a freshman at Ma’ayanot, donated her dress to the gemach. “I was happy to participate so that girls who are looking for modest bat mitzvah dresses that are usually hard to find in stores will have the opportunity to come shop and choose from a variety of beautiful dresses that already conform to our modest standards,” Neima shared. For some, parting with their dress can be emotionally difficult. Many of the girls at SAR were excited to be a part of this mitzvah and even participated in a “goodbye party” for dresses they were donating. Emily Feit of White Plains donated four dresses from her family. She tried one on and the girls celebrated with a mock “bat mitzvah” dance. They had a wonderful time and most importantly walked away proud to be part of such a special project.

Renee wants everyone to feel comfortable visiting and borrowing from the gemach. Donations are greatly appreciated for the upkeep of the gemach, but are not required. Checks should be made out to Project Ezrah and can be donated upon pick-up or return of the dress. Renee hopes that the gemach will continue to grow and she is always seeking fresh, current inventory. The objective is to really help people who are making or participating in a simcha, Renee said. This is an ideal way for the greater community to do a mitzvah and help one another, she added. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit [email protected].

By Andrea Nissel

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