July 23, 2024
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Sixth Grader Elissa Tobin Brightens Chanukah for Survivors

Elissa Tobin, a sixth grader at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy, celebrated her bat mitzvah the weekend of December 19. Like many bar and bat mitzvah youth, Elissa had to deviate from her original celebration plan of a big women’s tefillah at Agudath Sholom, where she would give a dvar Torah from the bimah at the conclusion of services, followed by a lunch at the synagogue for family and friends. This plan was whittled down, to a women’s tefillah of 25 participants, a Zoom Havdalah which included both a dvar Torah from Elissa and a photo montage. Elissa’s weekend concluded with a Sunday drive-by of local friends and family to wish Elissa mazal tov.

Elissa expressed, “I wish my extended family would have been able to come. However, it is not as nerve-wracking when there are only a few people there.“

Elissa also wanted to mark the occasion of her bat mitzvah with a chesed project. Elissa and her mother, Laura, contacted Rebekah Kanefsky at Schoke Jewish Family Service of Fairfield County. “The genesis was we called JFS and said we would like to partner with you in honor of Elissa’s bat mitzvah. What do you guys need?” stated Laura. “Rebekah said I have this great idea for a project, and as soon as we heard it, we said done! Then I asked when do you want these delivered by? The response was Chanukah!” With not much time to complete this project, Elissa and Laura hit the ground running.

The project was to make gift bags for the 88 Holocaust survivors in the community to brighten their Chanukah. “I wanted to honor their bravery and give them something for Chanukah,” expressed Elissa. The bag included pre-packaged doughnuts, chocolate gelt, a dreidel, grape juice, latke mix, a box of Chanukah candles and a letter written by Elissa. The Tobins were overwhelmed by the response in their Stamford community. All donations were collected on Monday, December 14, and the deliveries were made on Tuesday, December 15.

“People in the neighborhood donated so much in only one week. We only had a week to get everything right and get everything we needed. We had to buy a lot of stuff, and we had so many people help us,” explained Elissa.

“We were so surprised that there were so many survivors in our neighborhood,” noted Laura. “We found most survivors live in the senior building in the Stamford area, but we found some that live in Greenwich.”

Laura added, “When Rebekah first suggested the project, I thought there were 20 or 25 local survivors. It was amazing that there are 88 and that we can do something for them. So many people in our community were so sweet about donating the supplies, and we had so many volunteers drop off.”

She continued, “When I spoke to some of the people who delivered, they just said how grateful the recipients were. A few of my friends brought their little kids. The recipients just lit up when they saw the kids. Rebekah told me that many of these people do not have family in the area and they don’t see many people right now. I am hopeful the gift bags brighten their spirit; we wanted them to know that people in the community were paying attention to them.”

Elissa added, “One friend who delivered said that the recipients were very happy when the package was delivered; she said that it made their Chanukah.”

In a letter which she placed in each bag, Elissa stated, “This week’s parsha, Miketz, informs us about all of the hard experiences Joseph went through as a slave and prisoner in Egypt, and how brave he was through it all, just like you. Joseph took the worst situation of being in prison and used his talent for dream interpretation which eventually led him to help Pharoah. I am so inspired that you fought through the Holocaust with courage and strength. Your perseverance through one of the worst times in Jewish history reminds me to appreciate my life where I can celebrate my Bat Mitzvah. You remind me that, through even the most tough times, to always remain courageous. Through these gift packages, I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate and admire you and your miraculous heroism this Chanukah.”

By Judy Berger

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