David Feurstein decided to do something different when he turned 13 in December. He told all of his guests that in lieu of gifts, he wanted donations for Jewish Family Service.
David collected $30,000, and the welfare organization formally thanked the Alpine teenager on Sunday at a brunch at its Teaneck office. Because David had donated the entirety of his gifts, JFS decided to give him a bar mitzvah present, said executive director Lisa Fedder. She presented David with a painting by Michal Meron, depicting David’s bar mitzvah portion.
"Thank you for having blessed us and the people we serve," Fedder said.
"A big motivation for selecting JFS was it wasn’t just writing a check," said David’s father, Robert Feurstein.
"It’s nice to write a check and give it, but it’s nice to get your hands in," David added. "With this I can actually see what I’m doing . I don’t need anything. There’s people out there who need food and it’s more important for them to get it."
David’s grandfather, Rabbi Irving Spielman of Fort Lee, had been on the JFS board of directors for more than ‘0 years and was instrumental in selecting the charity, said David’s mother, Shira Feurstein.
Spielman noted the family commitment to tzedakah, pointing out that David’s paternal great-grandfather, for whom he is named, was a pivotal figure in the Vienna Jewish community in the 1930s, encouraging support for the pioneers in then-Palestine.
David’s money will be stretched through numerous JFS programs and the teenager will have a hand in deciding exactly how it is used. For example, David has "adopted" a Holocaust survivor couple and a widow and her five children. He’s bought them Chanukah gifts and helped them buy monthly groceries.
JFS runs Club Ed in Cliffside Park, an after-school enrichment program that showcases children’s artwork. David’s contributions will help to promote the program, as well as pay to frame some of the artwork.
Lastly, his gift will create scholarships to send three children to Jewish summer camps. Immediately after Sunday’s brunch David met with Fedder and other JFS staff to begin the process of selecting the campers. "What is also very powerful for him is his involvement with the agency in determining how to allocate his gift," said Julye Brown, JFS’s director of operations. "He’s becoming aware of the needs in our community and sensitized and able to make decisions on how to help directly. He can make a difference in a lot of families’ lives."
David’s generosity is greatly appreciated at JFS, its leaders said. Although it has received donations from entire families, the organization has never received a gift like this from a bar or bat mitzvah child.
"You make a living by what you earn and make a life by what you give," Fedder said, quoting Winston Churchill. "David is very well on his way to making a life."