RJDS student mitzvah
Students Tomer Berko Gabay (student council president), Liam Greenberg (secretary) and Nathan Tourvieille (treasurer) with Heartly, aka Karen Pasqua, senior events coordinator, Howard Blank, Reesa Pawer and Julie Kendell. Student Tal Pretli (vice-president) was absent when the photo was taken. (photo from Richmond Jewish Day School)
Until last year, Richmond Jewish Day School did not have a student council. That was when Reesa Pawer, education assistant at the school, decided it was time to make some changes and do something “for school spirit.”
Not only were students given an opportunity to vote in their council, but they cast their votes at the same time as their parents were participating in the federal election. Said an enthusiastic Pawer, “There were lineups to the ballot boxes! The votes were counted and the student council was elected, as they would be in a real election.”
Class representatives were then chosen by teachers and students. Since then, the council has gone from handing out hot chocolate at recess to coordinating an impressive fundraising program.
The students have targeted three charities to support, said Pawer. “They wanted a global charity, so they picked Variety Club. They wanted a local charity, so they chose the Richmond Animal Shelter, who received a cheque last term. And they wanted to support a Jewish charity, so they’re raising funds for the Jewish Food Bank.”
The project involved students from grades 1 through 7 and, said Pawer, the student council “did the legwork.”
To raise funds, students sold flowers, including gerbera daisies and roses, for local families’ Shabbat tables. They also sold cakes and contributed $2 on non-uniform days, which take place monthly on Rosh Chodesh, to raise funds for Variety.
On April 11, RJDS welcomed Howard Blank, president of Variety in British Columbia, to the school. After a short video presentation about the work of Variety, the students presented Blank with a donation. School council president Tomer Berko Gabay spoke at the assembly, saying that the student group felt “honored to give this $1,000 cheque to Variety – The Children’s Charity.”
The students had a chance to meet Heartly, Variety’s mascot, and were shown a video by Richard O’Shaughnessy, Variety’s events coordinator, about a young man who has benefited greatly from the generosity of Variety supporters. Born with only one hand, Drew now has a robotic hand, which allows him to complete even the most intricate tasks. His passion is making jewelry and, thanks to the robotic hand, he is now able to operate the tools required to do so. The RJDS kids watched the video in rapt attention, exclaiming “Cool!” when they heard about the “bionic” hand from Blank.
Blank praised the students for their community spirit and hard work. He described the “wonderful mitzvah” they had performed. “You’ve given a young boy or girl a new wheelchair or a special bicycle,” he said. “You guys really helped make sure that every kid gets a fair chance, and we think that’s right.”
RJDS principal Abba Brodt also applauded the students. “I am really proud of you,” he said. “You did something special – and so did your families.”
Asked how this fundraising program contributes to the students’ academic programs, Brodt described the integration of the school’s Jewish studies with the government-mandated B.C. curriculum.
“It was the perfect way to teach tikkun olam, to bring beauty to Shabbat tables and bring beauty to the wider world. It’s the perfect way to tie what’s out there in the world with what’s in here,” he said, putting his hand on his heart.
He added, “Reesa went above and beyond. This is a remarkable achievement for the student council. She gave the kids her full support.”
Blank took the time to answer questions from the group assembled, bringing the kids’ attention back to familiar experiences. He also reminded them to help kids in wheelchairs feel included when they meet them at playgrounds. “They don’t just want help, they’re just like you, they want friends,” he said.
RJDS students will present a cheque to the food bank in June, said Pawer. “This is the first year we’ve done such a big project,” she said. “We’re hoping to keep it going.”
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver.