Hebrew Helpers Turns 13!

From left: Hebrew Helpers team Ronit Aranoff, Rabbi Keara Stein, Wendy Jackler, Rachel Moran, Debbie Jaffe, Sigi Gradwohl, Melissa Raub, Marnina Wirtschafter, Robyn Altman, Sarah Grondlund-Jacob and Hebrew Helpers founder Todd Shotz. Music Director Justin Stein in the background. Photo by Stephanie Waisler, Hebrew Helpers

On Feb. 10, more than 160 people assembled at Busby’s East for an event marking the 13th birthday of b’nai mitzvah learning company Hebrew Helpers.

Among those in attendance were students and their family members, as well as many of the Hebrew Helpers “mentors” who have worked with Jewish students to create a meaningful bar or bat mitzvah experience. The event also marked the official launch of the Mitzvah Learning Fund, a nonprofit that will provide small grants to individuals seeking to access personalized Jewish education or to educators working to create new curricula.

“I’ve been teaching 23 years, and never had to deal with this,” Shotz said. “It’s uncharted territory to talk to students this young about this kind of thing.”

Since its founding in 2005, Hebrew Helpers has mobilized its 42 mentors to help students connect with their bar or bat mitzvah learning. As of January 2019, the organization had helped create 534 services for bar and bat mitzvah students in Boston; New York City; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The event featured a display of all the past students’ names, formatted to look like text in a Torah scroll; musical presentations by Hebrew Helpers mentors and former students; and speeches by board members, many of whom paid tribute to the vision of Hebrew Helpers founder.

“Every single person in this room has a story about how you’ve brought them Judaism in a way that they’ve never ever felt,” said Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, addressing Shotz and sharing her own experience as a three-time Hebrew Helpers parent. Hirsch, also a Mitzvah Learning Fund board member, presented Shotz and Hebrew Helpers with an honorary citation from the city.

Shotz called the launch of the Mitzvah Learning Fund “the fulfillment of a longtime dream.”

“As Hebrew Helpers has grown, I have met many families who were seeking Jewish learning but felt they couldn’t afford it,” he said. “Now, through small grants for learners and educators, the Mitzvah Learning Fund will bring these uniquely personal and custom-crafted Jewish educational opportunities into logistical and financial reach.”

“The Mitzvah Learning Fund is going to make the ancient new,” said longtime community professional Rhoda Weisman, a member of the Mitzvah Learning Fund board. “Life is so expensive. Everyone needs a little help. We’re going to have so many adults learning.”

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

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