By Angie JACOBS.
Let me get something straight before I launch in to telling you what my son has achieved this year. He’s really quite lazy. His room is a
like a bin and he’s got more lip than Mick Jagger. He’s a last minute merchant. I wish I had a penny for every time I’ve asked him if he’s done something and he’s replied indignantly “no, not yet.” The loves of his life are female (many), clothes (on trend) and hair products (smelly).
Yet, beneath the cooler than The Fonz exterior (my analogy, not his), is a very sweet boy. He loves being with people and seems to know just how to act to make people feel comfortable in his presence. A schmoozer yes, but in a good way.
My daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was four years ago and with help from family and friends we managed to produce a kosher recipe book to commemorate the happy event. The recipes ranged from traditional Jewish classics such as Coca Cola Chicken to Mars Bar Mousse. (The latter I get, but who ever thought of mixing soft drinks with poultry? Or did they just spill their beverage on their chicken and decide to eat it anyway, what with kosher meat being so expensive?). The book turned out fabulous and we managed to raise £2000 for the Rubin-Zeffren girls’ orphanage in Netanya.
So when it came to our Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah project, he had a tough act to follow. We had a think. Our favourite idea was to try to eat in every kosher restaurant in the country. Ambitious and possibly unprecedented, but hardly altruistic. We thought harder. He could use his charisma and energy to volunteer at some charities. But how many and, more importantly, how? Thirteen seemed like a fitting number but this didn’t solve how I was going to find charities that would want him and find appropriate things for him to do. (I do know that I’ve used the word “I” here even though it’s his project. Let’s face it, Lazy Boy was hardly going to sit slaving over a hot internet looking for volunteering opportunities while he still had 9 episodes of Hollyoaks on the Tivo planner that he hadn’t yet seen.) I needed help and I found it in the form of JVN – the Jewish Volunteering Network. At first they weren’t sure, after all he was only 11 at the time and a lot of charities were not set up to receive such young volunteers. So we went to talk to them in their then offices in West Hampstead. The boy worked his magic and “Ethan’s Challenge” was born. There just happened to be a kosher restaurant up the road, so we thought it apt to celebrate its conception and embark on the alternative project should this one fail.
He got off to a good start by helping to pack boxes at World Jewish Relief, schmoozing around the Jewish Living Expo spreading the good word of JVN and baking for the homeless with Tikkun and Habonim Dror. I would like to say that no job was too tough for him, but he turned his nose up at Thames 21 working with the environment: “I’m not doing cleaning” and was disgruntled when JVN could not come up with a hairdressing position for him volunteering in a teenage girls only salon. However, good times followed and he did stints for Jewish Care, Tzedek, Norwood, Camp Simcha, GIFT, Langdon, Mencap and Mitzvah Day.
The boy’s done good. He’s had a lot of fun and he’s got a little more humility now than when he started out. My proudest moment was seeing him and my daughter chatting happily with the residents of Jewish Care’s Rela Goldhill Lodge for Tikkun’s ‘Light Up a Life’ project. Not only did Blue Peter send him one of their prestigious badges, but the Chief Rabbi was pretty impressed too when he heard of Ethan’s Challenge and presented him with a beautiful siddur with his own personal message inside.
And there’s more. To celebrate the completion of the project, we have set up a JustGiving page so that people can show their appreciation by donating to Ethan’s chosen charity. The charity is Tikva Children’s Home in Odessa, Ukraine. On Ethan’s website he states his five aims for his project. He’s succeeded beautifully in all of them, especially number 5. He has indeed become a man.