Community rallies for Haiti relief

Since a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, the devastation of the island nation has been front and center in the news. “Even the little ones are aware,” said Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation in Chesterfield. “I hear them saying they saw Haiti on television or in the newspaper.”

United Hebrew is one of several synagogues and Jewish institutions here that has responded to the crisis. The congregation made a $10,000 donation to the Union for Reform Judaism Haiti Relief Fund, and the United Hebrew Schools launched the ‘Help Light Haiti’ project just after the earthquake occurred.

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Students at Saul Spielberg Early Childhood Center, Louis and Mary Millstone Religious School and Rabbi Jerome W. Grollman Hebrew School all are contributing to a fund to provide high-performance, solar-powered portable flashlights (known as BoGo Lights) to Haiti. As of Monday, a total of $2,465 had been collected for the fund.

“We chose the Light Haiti Project because flashlights are a tangible item that the students understand,” said Cheryl Whatley, UH director of education. One first-grade student sent an email to her friends and family, encouraging them to donate to the project. She wrote, “I gave my charity money to help buy special solar flashlights so the people can see after the sun goes down, especially so the kids are not scared by the dark.”

United Hebrew will accept donations for ‘Help Light Haiti’ through Sunday, Feb. 7. To take part, send a check payable to United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, Mo., 63141. Write “Help Light Haiti Project” on the envelope and on the memo line of the check.

On Saturday evening, Central Reform Congregation sponsored a benefit con cert for Haiti at the synagogue, 5020 Waterman Boulevard in St. Louis. Admission was $10, with additional donations gratefully accepted.

“We raised over $7,000,” reported Jen Bersdale, CRC’s director of advocacy and communications. “We had about 300 people, and a lot of people gave a lot more than $10 at the door, plus we sold CDs featuring CRC performers.”

Bersdale said the crowd really enjoyed the concert. The finale, especially, was a big hit. “All the performers sang Leslie Caplan’s version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.'” Caplan, who helped coordinate the event, performed with Marty Miller and Rabbi Ed Harris.

Also performing at the concert were Rabbi Randy Fleisher; David and Sara Surkamp; Ed Reggi and the Paper Slip Theatre; Ricardo Souza Melo; Andrew Bollinger; Robert Fishbone; Ottoman Underground (Will Soll and Shlomo Ovadya); and Georgy Rock and Bob Dill. Bob Gerchen, CRC Board President, served as master of ceremonies.

All proceeds from the concert will benefit Meds & Food for Kids and American Jewish World Service. Both agencies are participating in relief work in Haiti. For more information, see www.centralreform.org.

Day school efforts

After learning that an earthquake had struck Haiti, the student-run Disaster Relief Kids group at the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy in Frontenac held an emergency meeting and started a fund-raising drive.

Lily Hauptman, a fourth grader, noted that now “everyone in the school feels like there is something they can do.” To date, the students have raised $1,174.

Amalia Newman, a third grader, said, “Last year, our social action club organized a ‘Delicious Drink Day’ to raise money for another organization. Even with a reward of root beer floats, it took several weeks to raise $1,000. But for this earthquake, we raised $1,000 in just a few days! We’re just 82 kids, but we’re making a difference!”

Jonas Mondschein, a fifth grader, said, “I brought in $15 of my own money, and the fifth grade decided to dump our class tzedakah jar — approximately $148 — into the Haiti collection bucket. You see how poor the country is and how poorly built the buildings are, and you feel terrible.”

Sophie Hurwitz, a fifth grader, hopes the students can raise even more money for Haiti. “This is a major disaster. Even though we’ve collected $1,000, we need to do more,” she said. “I brought in my allowance last week, and I plan to bring it in again next week. They need it more than I do right now.”

Cheryl Maayan, head of the school, said, “What a message that you don’t have to be a grown-up to make a difference. In six days, the students have collected four figures from a very small, but very loving community.”

At Solomon Schechter Day School, students began collecting donations for Haiti after the news broke, and so far have raised close to $400.

Claire Lisker, an eighth grader and president of the Va’ad Chesed, the school’s student council, said the group collected donations before school and held doughnut sales after school to raise funds.

To drum up support, they created posters, published a notice in the school’s weekly newsletter and Lisker spoke to the upper school students about the importance of raising funds for Haiti. She said she and other students felt compelled to help.

“Haiti is already one of the poorest countries in the world, so it was so tragic to see the level of destruction there,” she said. “We thought it was important to help — and show that support from the Jewish community.”

Lisker said the funds raised by the Va’ad Chesed would be donated to Jewish organizations working in Haiti.

In a letter to families of the school, Schechter’s Head of School, Rabbi Allen Selis wrote that he was impressed by how quickly students “jumped into action and began making an impact in a very thoughtful and practical way.”

“As I told our entire Upper School this week, we are all responsible for the care and protection of other people who share our world. To be a Jew is to take on that responsibility,” he wrote. “The incredible leadership that Israel and the U.S. have shown, flying in sophisticated equipment and mobilizing well-trained individuals to save lives, shows our values so clearly. I’m deeply impressed at how clearly our students have internalized this lesson.”

Bonnie Drazen, activities director at H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, said the school and students are planning to raise funds and purchase and send items like blankets and toys. Drazen said the school has been teaching students about the short and long-term needs that arise with major humanitarian crises. “We spoke to the children about the fact that right now Haiti is on everyone’s mind but in three months they will still need help,” she said.

“We are hoping to time our delivery for then so that the help continues even if it’s no longer in the news on a daily basis.”