Nesya Bayewitz is stepping into young Jewish adulthood putting her pedal foot forward.
The 12-year-old Teaneck sixth grader at Yeshivat Noam is leading a team 100 strong to include her 60 classmates, family members, and friends and taking them on a mitzvah bike ride in this year’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) Ride to Fight Hunger, scheduled on Sunday, June 23.
In its nine years, there have been bar or bat mitzvahs who participate in the Ride to Fight Hunger as part of their mitzvah project. They ride and raise money and it’s a wonderful thing.
But for a girl to bring her entire class — and then some — to the event, and to make the ride her actual bat mitzvah party is something unusual and special, said Deborah K. Glasser, director of marketing and communications for the Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Northern NJ.
“This is huge,” Ms. Glasser said. “At her age to do something different like this is amazing. To be so kind and generous. Nesya is really a very warm and wonderful young lady. We’re thrilled that the Bayewitz family offered to have the celebration with us.”
The Bayewitz family has been participating in Riding to Fight Hunger for the last five years, and Nesya since she was 8 years old.
Tirza (Teresa) Bayewitz, Nesya’s mother said the idea to have Nesya’s bat mitzvah as the Ride to Fight Hunger first came to her from a story she heard from Rabbi Ezra Weiner of Congregation Rinat Yisroel. Rabbi Weiner talked about a rabbi in Jerusalem who made a wedding and opened the meal to the entire community. That example of inclusion was a great motivation.
“We should never forget how fortunate we are,” Tirza said, “and we should use our happy event to help other people to make sure that their needs are met. Nobody should suffer from food insecurity.”
The Bayewitz team hopes to raise $18,000 this year.
“We thought that this whole experience would be perfect for this milestone,” said Tirza.
Nesya’s bat mitzvah will start morning davening at 8:30 in a tent set up for the participants. It will be followed by a breakfast of bagels, muffins, and other goodies to fuel the riders. Then the team will get in gear for a 10-mile ride that starts at Temple Emanu-El in Closter and follows a path through Rockland County until it rounds back to the starting point. (There are biking options: 3, 10, 25 and 50-miles, as well as a hike.) Once back, riders will be treated to a barbecue, tunes by a DJ, games and even a traditional hora simcha dance in honor of Nesya’s bat mitzvah.
The team also will wear Ride to Fight Hunger T-shirts like the event participants. But the bat mitzvah guests will have theirs distinguished by color. Their T-shirts will be hot pink.
Said Tirza: “This event could not be a more perfect expression of the kind of kid she is. She loves to have fun with her friends outdoors, enjoys the independence of riding a bike, and is compassionate about the needs of others. We have gotten to know JFCS in the process and are amazed at the support they provide for members of our community. We are so proud of Nesya for choosing to celebrate her bat mitzvah with JFCS.”
Said Nesya’s father, Ariel Berkowitz, “As a family we have always enjoyed the annual JFCS bike rides, and it’s been wonderful learning more about the organization over the past few months. JFCS is run by an outstanding team, led by dedicated and talented lay leaders, and we’ve been so impressed by their passion for the work they do and the commitment they have to the broader community.
“We hope this bat mitzvah celebration will not only be meaningful for Nesya and her friends, but it will help spread greater awareness about JFCS and the services they provide. Hopefully we’ll continue to see a new wave of young bikers and volunteers in years to come.”
For Nesya, who loves biking and bikes at least twice a week with her friends, her other activities include playing guitar, soccer, baseball, and drama. “I am so happy that I can have fun and do charity at the same time,” she said. “For my bat mitzvah, I wanted to share this experience with my friends so they can also learn about how to help people who don’t have enough food or aren’t able to leave their house to get groceries.
“I hope they will love the ride as much as I do and come back with their families in the future.”
The money raised will benefit the JFCS Meals-on-Wheels program, delivering more than 48,000 meals to homebound seniors and others in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. The money also is used to support the JFCS Food Pantries, located in Teaneck and Fair Lawn. Some 200 families rely on the food pantries.
JFCS hopes for at least 200 participants in this year’s event and set a goal of raising at lease $100,000.
Registration and information about donation and the course is available at www.ridetofighthunger.com.
Heidi Mae Bratt is the editor of About Our Children.