As bar mitzvah chesed projects go, Gavriel Katz is putting his best foot forward. For his chesed project, Gavriel decided to collect gently worn shoes that have been sitting in closets just taking up space. He plans to send these shoes off and sell them to third-world countries and then give the proceeds to the Mendel Balk Yachad Center in Teaneck.
Yachad has a very special place in the heart of the Katz family. Dr. Doron Katz, Gavriel’s father, has been involved with Yachad for many years, and even attended the first-ever Yad B’Yad summer program. Gavriel’s oldest brother, Aryeh, was a regular weekly volunteer at the Mendel Balk Yachad Center, as well as a counselor at Morasha Yachad, where he introduced Gavriel to many new friends along the way. His other brother, Netanel (@simchaonwheels), along with DJ Coby Mandel @djcoby) did a Chanukah show for Yachad New Jersey during COVID.
Through his family’s active participation and volunteer work, Gavriel has had the opportunity to cultivate friendships with Yachad participants and gain a greater appreciation for the organization itself. “I chose Yachad because it truly allows its participants to have a role, a voice and a home in our Jewish community, because everyone belongs!” He explained, “I have chosen to collect shoes because it is a good way to collect money for Yachad without asking people to donate huge amounts of money.” But his project, and his chesed, doesn’t end there because he isn’t just donating the proceeds to Yachad. Rather, he is also including the participants in the actual project.
“We always work with families in terms of what they can do with their bar/bat mitzvah projects. Gavriel took it to the next level,” said Raquel Selevan, director, Yachad New Jersey and Executive Director, JUF NJ.
For the last several months, Gavriel has spent much of his time visiting his friends and volunteering at the Mendel Balk Yachad Center in Teaneck. He presented a whole tutorial about how to sort, wrap and package the shoes, and then worked side by side with participants in the Yachad Adults Day Service Program JUF NJ, who are volunteering by preparing shoes in the center’s retail training space.
“We turned it into a mini operation,” explained Selevan, who is always in search of volunteer and vocational opportunities for participants of Yachad’s Adult Day program and stressed the importance of having community-based volunteer opportunities.
“What makes this bar mitzvah project so special is that Yachad’s role in the project is twofold. One, Yachad is the recipient of the funds raised by the shoe project. Additionally, our participants are volunteering for this project by preparing and packaging the shoes before they are sent off. Our adult day services program is utilizing its retail training space for the shoe project. The participants are able to work on skills such as sorting, matching, organizing, labeling, and packaging,” she added.
“The Katzes are really special people in our community and always try to think more intentionally and broadly about what they are doing.” So aside from just donating funds, they recognized that it would be a great activity for the participants as well. “This bar mitzvah project is really special…I think it’s really incredible to choose Yachad as a bar/bat mitzvah chesed project,” Selevan added.
As for Gavriel, he says, “I have been lucky to have the opportunity to hang out with Yachad participants and pack shoes with them for my chesed project. “Please support me as I fundraise for this incredible organization dedicated to addressing the needs of Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life. Even though this is KNOT your typical bar mitzvah chesed project, please SHOE me the love by donating your shoes today!
“Option A: Drop off your shoes at The Teaneck Yachad Center at 259 Cedar Lane, Teaneck, NJ. Don’t have shoes or live outside the area? You can be a part of this too by donating money. Please try and give Chai ($18) or Double-Chai ($36) by going to https://www.yachad.org/donate and donating money in my honor. “The only way I raise money for Yachad is with your help! Thank you!”