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Giving Back

Posted: February 16, 2008 8:38 p.m.
Updated: April 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Thirteen-year-old Matthew Mazie reads from the Torah. With help from his mother, Carol, he raised $2,523 for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America for his bar mitzvah project.

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Matthew Mazie has always been familiar with asthma. "I've had bad asthma almost all my life," the 13-year-old from Valencia said.

But when it came time to prepare for his bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth Shalom and organize the accompanying mitzvah project, a requirement at the Canyon Country congregation, he wanted to use the opportunity to help.

After visiting his asthma and allergy specialist, he found out about the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a nonprofit organization that offers assistance for children with severe cases of the respiratory condition.

With help from his mother, Carol, Mazie started a goal to raise $1,800 because it would send three kids with the chronic disease to the foundation's summer camp.

The mother and son began sending out letters to friends and families with donation information and a save the date for Mazie's bar mitzvah.

Last year in November, the two put together a basket that was raffled off during Congregation Beth Shalom's mitzvah fair.

Seven months later, all the donations were tallied, and the final total of $2,523 surprised Mazie.

"I feel good about that," said Mazie, a Rio Norte Junior High School student.

No Isolated Case
Mazie was able to showcase his fundraising skills during his bar mitzvah last Saturday, when he presented the foundation with a giant novelty check.

"I had never seen a big check before," he said.

The experience has taught Mazie a lot about helping others out.

"I learned that if you want something, you can get it," he said. "But you might have to work really, really hard."

But Mazie is not alone in giving back to the community through a mitzvah project.

Kayla and Lindsey Hertzberg, twin sisters from Newhall, organized a fundraiser for two animal rescue organizations for their bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Ami in Newhall.

When they were microchipping their pet during a visit to a Castaic animal shelter, the sisters spotted one cocker spaniel, which they later named Shelby.

Soon after, they got approval from their student council at Wiley Canyon Elementary School to set up "Pennies for Pups" in the classrooms to collect spare change from students and visitors.

Two weeks later, the Hertzbergs had collected $600.

The two were able to donate the money to Hakuna Matata and Bark Avenue and they also found a home for Shelby.

"I felt good that I could help other dogs," Kayla said.

Local youth groups at synagogues have also sprouted with the goal of assisting the community.

At Chabad of SCV, Carlos Burman, 16, is one of the dozens of local youngsters part of the local chapter of Bnei Brith Youth Organization, which has been organizing fundraisers and awareness events in the community for the past four years.

'Tikun Olam'
But with every mitzvah project, the ultimate goal is to get a student involved as they mark a stage of religious maturity with a bar or bat mitzvah.

Rabbi Ira Rosenfeld of Congregation Beth Shalom said that while he views the rituals of chanting the Torah and other mitzvah activities as crucial ways to connect students to Jewish history, community projects are just as important.

"What I hope they are learning is that Judaism is not just about prayers and blessings," he said.

He used the Hebrew phrase, "tikun olam," which loosely translates to "repairing the world" to express his thoughts on what the hope is with a mitzvah project.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Newhall sees mitzvah projects as a way to give back when they reach the responsible age.

"One of the big goals is for the kids to become regular participants in community service," Blazer said.

Blazer said that the mitzvah project is just one part of a bar or bat mitzvah, as the ceremony also includes other activities, like a reading of the Torah.

With every project, Blazer said it's important for the student to have an inspiration.

"The most important thing is for them to be passionate about it," he said, noting the project should signal a whole life commitment of social action.

"The whole process is about empowerment," he said. "Empowering them to be part of the community."

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