Selfhelp receives the Jewish Programming Award from AJAS American Jewish Aging Services and LeadingAge Community Impact 2022 Honoring Excellence Award Program for its program, ‘Mitzvah Mensches’.
Selfhelp received the Jewish Programming Award from AJAS (American Jewish Aging Services), an annual national award that recognizes Jewish programs that are innovative, creative, and specifically designed to enhance the spiritual well-being of the older adults they serve. Mitzvah Mensches was also recognized with the 2022 Community Impact Award given by Leading Age, a national organization representing non-profit senior living communities.
Efrat Dallal, Chief Marketing Officer and Arielle Lewis, Director of Community Outreach and Resident Services, received the award in Los Angeles, California during the 2022 National AJAS Conference. Creators of the program, Dallal and Lewis presented and shared the community-based program with other Jewish retirement communities at the conference with intentions of coaching other senior living communities to implement the same or similar program in their own communities. By the end of the conference, one home in Palo Alto, CA. took the idea and started planning their own Mitzvah Menches program.
“Mitzvah Mensches adds value to the Jewish community and can be replicated. What it does is offer our local synagogues an intergenerational program that gives young people exposure to older adults while they take part in a meaningful mitzvah project that has the potential to make a lasting impression throughout their lives,” said Efrat Dallal, Chief Marketing Officer.
Arielle Lewis, heads the Mitzvah Mensch program at Selfhelp since it was founded in 2020 as a way to engage with bar/bat mitzvah age young adults and the local Jewish Community. Lewis shares that for many years Selfhelp offered the opportunity for kids to volunteer, the program now invites and encourages them to participate. “The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 created an opportunity for our mensches to be extra creative in how they approached the projects by utilizing technology,” said Lewis.
Mitzvah Menches works with nearby Chicago synagogues, Anshe Emet and Temple Sholom and is open to any bar and bat mitzvah age volunteer. Selfhelp works with each Mensch to find a way to connect with residents that is individualized based on their interests, talents, or passions. Projects have included baking cookies for the community, making challah, visiting with pets, teaching tech classes, making art projects or raising money for Selfhelp’s holocaust survivor fund. One mensch led an iPad drive for the residents – collected used iPads that we now use to play music for a group of residents during meals.
Selfhelp’s very first Mensch Harry is a member of North Shore Congregation Israel in nearby Glencoe, IL. When choosing Harry’s project, a zoom interview was scheduled to get to know him and learn about his passions and interests. When asked why he chose The Selfhelp Home, Harry had a number of reasons. First, his grandma was a social worker and worked in nursing homes throughout Chicago. Second, his great aunt’s mom was a resident at Selfhelp many years ago. Harry connected with Selfhelp’s mission and it meant something special to him.
Harry discovered his passion for music in 3rd grade when he learned to play the piano. From there, his talents took off as he also learned to play the cello and worked on his singing skills. He is active in the school orchestra and choir. Once it was time to choose a mitzvah project, Harry knew he wanted to incorporate his love for music. Harry said, “I personally really love music and always found that it can help make me happy.”
This inspired his idea of creating a video with clips of him and his friends from theater group performing songs for residents of The Selfhelp Home to enjoy. The video includes a variety of songs and genres. Harry chose to sing “Miracle of Miracles” from Fiddler on the Roof. He had been working on the song with his voice teacher and felt like it was an upbeat, positive message to share. And it was – mid pandemic it was the perfect pick me up for residents. Harry also took it a step further and decided to write letters to the residents in addition to the video performances.
“I thought it would be meaningful for the residents to receive a letter during COVID-19 when they might be lonely and haven’t gotten to see their families for a while. I felt they would enjoy hearing from people from the “outside world” and wanted them to feel loved.”
He really enjoyed writing the letters, it gave him an opportunity to think about other people and what they might want to read. While Harry didn’t have a traditional celebration due to COVID-19, his family found a creative, fun way to still celebrate his accomplishment.
The Mitzvah Mensch program also helps in strengthening the relationship between The Selfhelp Home and the local Jewish community. At the end of each project, every Mensch is interviewed, along with their Rabbi and featured on our website and social media platforms. Rabbi Wendi Geffen had wonderful remarks to share about Harry: “Harry has led by example in demonstrating the very best of what becoming Bar Mitzvah can mean. His commitment to living Jewish values inspires us all.”
There is a lot of community awareness through this step of sharing the Mensch story online. The Selfhelp Mitzvah Mensches inspire other young adults to think about how they can have a positive impact on the Jewish community. The most meaningful part of the Mitzvah Mensch program is that The Selfhelp Home and the residents become a part of the Mensch’s Jewish journey. We always ask participants… “What does it mean to you to become a bar mitzvah?”
For Harry, “Bar Mitzvah means to be able to do more and help others. I can take more action with the community and charity work. I’m more independent and selfless.”