My name is A.J. (Aaron Joshua) Baumol. I am 12 years old, and have lived in Efrat, Gush Etzion for the past six years.
Four years ago the government decided to expel the Jews of Gush Katif. We had visited Neve Dekalim a few months before and I couldn’t believe that a town that looked so similar to my hometown in Efrat was going to be destroyed. There were beautiful houses, parks, schools, shopping centers and warm and friendly people who welcomed us into their homes.
My family, friends and I joined thousands of people from all over Israel to try and change their minds. We formed a human chain, held signs up on the highway, went down to Kfar Maimon and Kissufim to try and talk to the soldiers and policemen, but unfortunately it didn't help.
At first we tried to help the expellees while they were living in hotels; baking for them, bringing toys, blankets, Purim costumes and whatever else they needed. But, like I said, it's been four years now, and honestly I haven't thought about these people in a while. I figured they had all moved into new homes and moved on with their lives. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
My parents brought me down to Nitzan a couple of weeks ago and showed me the way the people of Gush Katif are living. This place did not look like Efrat. Everyone was still living in their "temporary" caravans. No beautiful houses, parks and gardens. The warm and friendly people were still there, but they looked sad.
My bar mitzvah will be, God willing, on Parshat Noach. I have been preparing by learning Mishna with my father, going over my Toarh portion, and trying to act more mature towards my family and friends. But I knew that I needed to do more to reflect this turning point in my life, so I started looking for a chesed (kindness) project. After our visit to Nitzan I decided that my chesed project should be aimed to try and help the people there in some way.
After our visit to Nitzan I decided that to try and help these people.
At the same time we were looking into halls, caterers, and trying to come up with a "theme" (my mom loves themes). We looked at everything from Bedouin tents to Kraft Stadium. One day we were talking about how we were more focused on the party part than the chesed part, and we realized we could combine them! What if we moved the whole evening bar mitzvah to Nitzan? This way all the money we were going to spend on caterers, waiters, photographers, musicians, printers and more would go to Gush Katif refugees, and our friends and family could see the way these people are living four years after they were kicked out of their homes.
With only a few months left till my bar mitzvah, it was time to start moving. First we called Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, founder of JobKatif, told him what we were thinking and gave him a list of all the types of suppliers we would need. Once they got back to us with names and phone numbers, we set off to Nitzan.
My dad called a friend of his, Yossi Dahari who is the head of the Youth programs for Gush Katif refugees. He said we could use the youth center as a base for our meetings. When we got there Yossi introduced us to Rachel Saperstein, head of Operation Dignity, and we talked to them both about the situation in Nitzan. 30% of the people still didn't have regular jobs, and in Nitzan the number was closer to 60%. They loved our idea about bringing the bar mitzvah to Nitzan and bringing in jobs for these people, even if it's only for one night, and hoped that this will start a new trend in bar and bat mitzvahs.
After we checked out the "banquet hall" (caravans with tables and chairs), met with the caterer and spoke with the DJ and the photographer, I spent some time with the kids there. I learned that Nitzan kids have the same hobbies, activities, and interests that we do in Efrat. I watched a soccer tournament, talked with kids at the youth center, worked out in their weight room, and went to their pizza store (it’s really good!). The kids were really nice to me, but it's not easy for them there. A lot of them suffer from PTSD, have difficulty in school, feel trapped in their small "homes," get into trouble, and are generally sad about their new lives. Their only outlet is their youth center which is a small building with old broken down games and computers. Even still, tens of kids come into the center every day for social activities and for the learning center, trying to move on and forget about their past.
The Wish List
In addition to supporting the suppliers for my party, I decided to try and raise money to upgrade the youth center with new fun stuff so that more kids will come and stay off the streets, and get help and support to move on with their lives. Yossi gave me a wish list with a budget for upgrading the center in Nitzan. They'd love to have the following:
DVD - $50
Painting learning center - $100
Books for learning - $100
Board games - $150
TV - $350
Foosball - $400
Alarm system - $400
Ping pong table - $500
Tables and chairs - $500
PlayStations - $600
Computers - $800
Pool table - $1000
Couches - $1200
All together the upgrading of this center will cost close to $7000. I am asking my family and friends in Efrat, Canada and the US, as well as anyone else who would like to bring some happiness to these kids, to help me out in this project. Let's make sure that the heroes of Gush Katif are never forgotten and that we continue to help out our brothers in need, especially during our own personal happy occasions.
To make a donation to help refurbish the youth center in Nitzan, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Tax deductible receipts will be provided through JobKatif.