Ayelet Cohen's* bas mitzva was different. Instead of a party
hall, she celebrated in a warehouse filled wall to wall with
canned food. And instead of opening gifts, she spent the day
packing gift baskets for the needy.
The Cohen family opted for substance over style, bypassing
the grand party they would normally have made, and donating
the money they would have spent to a worthy cause. On
Ayelet's big day, the family presented $18,000 to Yad
Eliezer, an Israeli nonprofit that distributes food to needy
families, and got to work filling some of the hundreds of
food baskets their money would provide.
In appreciation, Yad Eliezer Director Dov Weisel presented
Ayelet with an engraved plaque and a special birthday cake
she cut and distributed to all the staff and volunteers
working in the warehouse.
The Cohen family's connection to Yad Eliezer began on their
trip to Eretz Yisroel last year. They had met R' Dov Weisel
when they answered an advertisement seeking volunteers to
pack food baskets. After visiting some of the people who
benefit from the program, the Cohens began considering the
idea of doing something more meaningful for their daughter's
Mr. Cohen said he hoped to inspire people with his decision.
"My wife and I thought that donating money instead of
throwing a big party would be a way of influencing others to
get the right perspective on things, spending their money on
the really important things in life.
"When you get older, you get smarter," he added. "When our
children were born we had big fancy parties and I started
noticing poorer families doing the same. I felt we were
putting pressure on families in the area. They felt they had
to keep up with us. I felt bad about it."
In the end, Ayelet made the final decision not to have a
large party. After visiting families helped by Yad Eliezer
the previous year, she had seen what it means to be
"We live in this big house," she said. "Some of the families
we visited -- my room is bigger than their whole apartment.
Some of them are sleeping three in a bed."
Ayelet says she feels strange having a plaque with her name
on it at Yad Eliezer, but she also feels "a little proud"
for having the chance to make a difference.
Yad Eliezer distributes 6,000 boxes of food monthly in 17
cities. Its enormous warehouse is filled with staple foods
donated from factories, collected by volunteers who go door
to door in Yerushalayim, or purchased wholesale with
donations, most coming from outside Eretz Yisroel.
*Not her real name.