My brother’s keeper? You betcha! And helper!
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My brother’s keeper? You betcha! And helper!

Owen working the grounds at Fieldstone Middle School in Montvale.
Owen working the grounds at Fieldstone Middle School in Montvale.

Many youngsters choose worthy causes for their chesed projects when preparing for their bar and bat mitzvah. They are all great efforts, from helping the community locally to helping those in need globally, and everything in between.

And of course, there is no shortage of things that need to be done to help one’s fellow, being him or her Jewish or otherwise.

When Owen Baskin decided what he would do for his upcoming September 4 bar mitzvah, the Fieldstone Middle School student decided that his charity, or chesed, would rightly begin at home.

For his mitzvah project, as part of the “Kids Who Care” effort at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley Religious School that helps prepare its bar and bat mitzvah students, Owen chose to help his oldest brother, Andrew, 18, fundraise, pave and gravel, work the ground, and beautify their middle school in an extensive renovation and transformation of outdoor grounds.

The project was all part of Andrew’s Eagle Scout project for him to earn his rank of Eagle Scout.

As Owen’s “Kids Who Care” project, it was also one that worked so well – born out of necessity, opportunity, and invention. That is because the results not only improved the outdoor space of Owen’s present and Andrew’s past middle school, but it also enhanced and help grow the relationship between the two brothers, the oldest and youngest in their family of four siblings.

“During the (Covid) quarantine, I really bonded with my oldest brother, and wanted to help him earn his Eagle rank,” said Owen, whose parents are Rachel and Todd Baskin of Montvale. In addition to Andrew, Owen, has two other older siblings, Hannah, 17, and Joshua, 15.

Owen and Andrew go out to fundraise together.

The project, which was a transformation of the interior courtyard of the Fieldstone Middle School located in Montvale, was an ambitious one comprised of several elements.

First, there was getting the money.

The Baskin brothers were able to raise more than $5,500 at several fundraising events.

Then there was the project itself, which was comprised of creating a large gravel walking path around the perimeter of the interior courtyard, decorating and creating a garden bed area with whimsical stone garden animal sculptures, and create a paved seating area with a newly installed bench.

The brothers began to work, along with other friends of Andrew, in the fall of 2021. The project was completed by Chanukah in December 2021. Andrew got his Eagle Scout rank the next month in January 2022.

What was also perfect, said Rachel Baskin, Owen and Andrew’s mother, was that because of Covid, it was a good and safe project to embark on. Because it took place outdoors, and because so many options had been limited by Covid restrictions, it was not only worthy, but had safety built right in.

“It really was a perfect project not only because Andrew had attended that middle school but also because Covid highlighted the need for outdoor space,” said Rachel Baskin.

Working together on the new addition: a bench that stands on a newly paved area.

The Baskin family had its bar mitzvah brush with Covid two years early. When Joshua, also a student at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley Religious School, was about to have his bar mitzvah in April 2020, the world as we knew it shut down. Joshua was the first Zoom bar mitzvah that was done by the Temple. The family and the temple did not want to let the pandemic prevent Joshua from sharing what he learned for this milestone event. It certainly was memorable, said Rachel.

For his part, Owen really appreciated what he gained and learned from working on the project with his brother.

“I gained an awareness of what it is like to work very hard for a long time to reach a goal.”

Not only did Owen learn the value of hard work in reaching a goal, but his chesed had the most valuable benefit – enhancing and strengthening the relationship he had with his oldest brother.

“Working on this project made me want to do many more things with Andrew,” said Owen. “Now we really like to cook together and often watch movies together.”

For his part, Andrew likewise said he gained so much more beyond his Eagle Scout rank.

“I really appreciated the help from my family and friends on my project,” Andrew said, “but in particular, my brother Owen would stay after school or accompany me on weekends, and I was grateful for his commitment to helping me finish my project.”

Andrew added, “This experience allowed me to teach Owen about a part of my life that is very important to me, Scouting. Also, it brought us closer together and allowed me to teach him about the importance working hard and making a commitment.

“Owen stood out, among family and friends, as someone who wanted to really help me on my Eagle Scout journey, and I really appreciated how much he put into helping me. It made us closer than before and strengthened our relationship.”

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