From bat mitzvah party to soldiers’ platoons
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From bat mitzvah party to soldiers’ platoons

When guests arrive at Talia Schabes’ bat mitzvah on Sunday they will help the 12-year-old from Englewood complete her chesed project: sending CARE packages to Jewish soldiers overseas.

“I wanted to help the soldiers in some way,” Talia told The Jewish Standard. “I figured sending packages to the Jewish soldiers would help them a lot.”

Talia and her young friends will prepare 75 to 100 CARE packages filled with honey sticks, dried apples, gefilte fish, chapstick, deodorant, copies of the Standard, and other nonperishable items. After the party the boxes will be shipped to platoons in Iraq, Kuwait, and South Korea to be distributed among Jewish soldiers just in time for Rosh HaShanah.

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Annette Shabes has helped her daughter Talia collect items for care packages, which the younger Schabes is sending to Jewish soldiers serving overseas as part of her bat mitzvah chesed project.

As a child who was born prematurely, Talia had originally wanted to donate an incubator to Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Israel for her chesed project but, she said, the obstacles grew too large. She came up with the idea of the Rosh HaShanah CARE packages with her mother, Annette, and father, Victor.

Talia’s parents supported the idea as a way to thank American soldiers for their service. While Annette Schabes said she supports the focus on Israel in the day schools – Talia attends the Moriah School in Englewood – she and her husband wanted to guide Talia’s focus toward something closer to home.

“Politics aside, this conflict has been going on for quite some time,” Schabes said. “I don’t know if everybody always remembers our Jewish brethren serving over there. We have an obligation to show some hakarat hatov [gratitude] to Jewish soldiers serving overseas.”

Both of Talia’s paternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors, Talia’s mother said. Because of this family history, her children appreciate the freedoms guaranteed in the United States, particularly freedom of religion. This made the opportunity to do something for the soldiers more meaningful, she said.

“This is our way of giving back to our country,” Schabes said, “and to show our gratitude by doing this act of chesed.”

Schabes called Rabbi Chaim Poupko at Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood, who put her in touch with the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council, part of the JCC Association, in Manhattan.

“Becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is being aware of responsibility both vis-à-vis ourselves and our community,” Poupko said. “Talia has found a beautiful way to really engage in an act of chesed, which shows a great responsibility.”

The Jewish Chaplains Council estimates that 1,600 – or 1 percent – of the 160,000 soldiers serving overseas are Jewish, said Rabbi Barry Baron, deputy director. He gave Schabes the names of Jewish platoon leaders and told her where to send the packages.

“Usually people, when they get these things, are pleased and moved that somebody’s thinking about them and somebody cared enough to go through the efforts to do something like this,” Baron said. The council receives between five and a dozen requests a year for help with bar/bat mitzvah projects from across the country.

“In the years leading up to 9/11, a very small percentage of American Jews joined the military since the draft ended,” Baron said. “A combination of events since 9/11 have caused people to refocus on Jews in the American military, and that’s why we’re getting interest in these kinds of projects.”

Even though her bat mitzvah chesed project will be completed when the packages ship next week, Talia said she would like to see this become an annual project. Baron welcomed the idea.

“We always encourage people to get involved,” he said. “One of the issues in past years was the invisibility of Jews in the military. Anything that raises that visibility and awareness is something we’d like to encourage.”

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