TEANECK Thirteen-year-old Ohr needed to learn English before coming to the United States for summer camp. The boy is one of about 500 Israeli children receiving assistance from a scholarship fund administered by two Orthodox rabbis here, and they arranged for an English tutor.
But Ohr lives in Sderot, the working-class town frequently barraged with Kassam missiles fired from Gaza. "I hired three teachers," said Rabbi Uzi Rivlin, the fund’s president and a native Israeli, "but all of them ran away because they were scared to be in an apartment without a shelter. So Ohr was left with no English."
This Shabbat, Ohr and two other Israeli boys supported by the Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Children in Israel (Keren Milgot le-Kiddum Yeladim be-Yisrael) will be at Cong. Beth Aaron here, 950 Queen Anne Road.
At Camp Moshava are, from left, Rabbi Uzi Rivlin; Israeli visitors Ohr and Ro’ee; and Alan Silverman, the camp’s director. Ohr celebrated his bar mitzvah at the camp.
The main purpose of the event is to seek pledges so the fund can continue to provide clothing, food, beds, school supplies, and medical assistance to struggling southern Israeli families like Ohr’s. In addition, the fund has been asked to help another 500 children from northern cities devastated by rocket attacks this summer. Rabbi Moshe Yasgur, its vice president, said this would cost some $300,000.
Ro’ee, who lives in Kiryat Gat, will be called to the Torah following his bar mitzvah last week at Camp Moshava in Honesdale, PA. At the meal between afternoon and evening services on Saturday, Ohr will tell congregants what it’s like for him and his four younger siblings to live with the threat of rockets every day (Yasgur will translate from the Hebrew). Daniel, a scholarship recipient from Kiryat Gat who celebrated his bar mitzvah here last summer, will deliver a guest sermon.
Former Beth Aaron congregant Alan Silverman, director of Camp Moshava, became acquainted with Daniel in Israel this year and offered to take him and two other young teens at camp, free of charge.
Though Ohr through no fault of his own arrived unable to speak English, Silverman welcomed him along with Ro’ee and Daniel.
Westchester County families whose children have become pen pals with them sponsored the boys’ trips. The family that hosted Ohr before camp started did not know Hebrew, so Rivlin was concerned about communication.
"They said not to worry," Rivlin reported later. "And it was fine. They learned some Hebrew, Ohr learned some English. The bigger problem was that Ohr wouldn’t eat. It turns out he’s used to eating only one meal a day."
All the boys did well at Moshava; Daniel, a math and languages prodigy who is newly religious, even chose to participate in an extra Talmud learning program.
Because Ro’ee would be in America on his 13th birthday, Rivlin asked his parents what they wanted to do about his bar mitzvah. "They have six children, and the father works 1′ hours a day. They said, ‘Make something nice in America for him and later we’ll make a l’chaim at home.’ So we agreed to make his bar mitzvah here."
It was to have been at Beth Aaron but the camp hosted it instead an experience "not to be believed," said Rivlin, who was there for the festivities and had prepared the bar mitzvah boy throughout the year via lessons over the phone.
Rivlin and Yasgur, both Beth Aaron members, founded the scholarship fund in 1999 to help orphaned children and children from families in distress referred by the mayors of various towns. Rather than sending cash, the fund arranges for recipients to get exactly whatever goods and services each requires.
"Receipt of a scholarship is conditional upon the student’s fulfillments of basic responsibilities and good behavior at home, in school, and in the neighborhood," said Yasgur. "They are expected to devote themselves to their studies, develop good character, and accomplish various tasks including maintaining pen-pal relationships with Americans."
Full educational scholarships are $140, tuition scholarships are $60, textbooks and supplies are $50, and school shoes are $’5. Tax-deductible contributions may be made payable to Cong. Beth Aaron, with "Scholarship Fund" in the memo line, and mailed to P.O. Box 1155, Teaneck, NJ 07666.