Chana Luzhetskaya’s mother was not there to celebrate her daughter’s birthday party, but Chana was not forgotten. For her special day, Chana and the 31 other girls living in Chabad’s Esther and William Benenson Home for Children in Ukraine rode thrill rides at the local amusement park. Later that night, Chana blushed, unaccustomed to the spotlight, as the house mother handed her a palm-sized gift-wrapped box. Chana carefully unwrapped the gift and found a shiny necklace inside – and smiled, something Chana has rarely done since her mother’s passing.
Chana didn’t know it at the time, but the party and gift were really from Claudia Moradi, 12, of Great Neck, New York. When Claudia celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, a friend of the family donated the birthday party money to Chabad’s orphanage in lieu of a gift, continuing the saga of Great Neck giving that has lead to important improvements in the lives of children saved by Tzivos Hashem of the CIS.
Without Claudia’s gift, Chana would have shared her birthday party with other orphans born in July. Not a terrible shame, but receiving individual attention is just the boost Chana needed. “It makes her feel better about herself, when she sees people care about her,” said Rabbi Yossi Glick, the home’s executive director and Tzivos Hashem’s representative in Dnepropetrovsk. “For once she doesn’t feel like she is a second class kid just because she lives in a children’s home.”
The Benenson Homes are just one aspect of Tzivos Hashem’s work in the CIS. Throughout the former Soviet Union, Tzivos Hashem, the youth programming division of Chabad-Lubavitch, operates a network of humanitarian organizations in addition to its regular educational programs. In Dnepropetrovsk alone, Tzivos Hashem runs two children’s homes, a food pantry and a “Wheels for Life” bus that helps street children escape their dead-end fates. Recently, Tzivos Hashem received seed money from the Benenson family and from the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to expand the boys’ and girls’ homes.
Although Tzivos Hashem channels a lot of resources to providing food and shelter to orphaned children, they do not forget that children have other needs – new clothes, toys and belongings to call their own – that are perhaps less vital but still important. When budget lines don’t stretch to cover these extras, friends of Tzivos Hashem like the Moradi family play a key role in helping children in need feel good about themselves.
Zara Moradi, Claudia’s mother, is an old hand at including the needs of less fortunate children in her party plans. “I want my children to learn that they are fortunate enough to have a beautiful party, and they should share with others,” said Moradi. “Claudia didn’t suffer from lack of gifts, and to give one child in an orphanage a simple birthday party is priceless.”
In fact, Moradi and her friend, Adina Moskowitz, have made giving charitable gifts something of a tradition between the two of them. “Adina is a big giver, she loves to give,” said Moradi. Both agreed that the Benenson home for children in Ukraine was a worthy cause, and the Moskowitzes sent off a check insstead of wrapping up a trinket for Claudia.
In addition to the Tzivos Hashem gift, twenty percent of Claudia’s bat mitzvah booty will be donated to charity. “Giving to others makes my children better people. It’s something I need to teach them,” Moradi said.
Moskowitz said she’d like to see charitable gifts become a trend at more bar and bat mitzvahs. Kids already get into the act in her Great Neck community when they dream up mitzvah projects, like packing up toiletries for women’s shelters, before their parties. “It would be nice to take the next step and say please give a donation to a favorite tzedakah organization instead of giving money to us,” said Moskowitz.
Both Moskowitz and Moradi have been living by this do-gooder credo for years. Before Rosh Hashanah arrives in autumn, Moradi buys every girl in Tzivos Hashem’s orphanage a new holiday outfit and new shoes. She phones Rabbi Glick for the girls’ clothing and shoe sizes and personally shops for the goods – no junky bargain basement clothing for “her” girls. This year’s shipment is all Italian made. “I saw the clothes people were offering, and I said ‘I can’t buy this garbage.’ And people said to me ‘but they’re for orphans.’ To me it doesn’t matter. I am very particular. I wouldn’t put something less on a child just because she’s poor,” Mordai said.
Several years ago, when Moskowitz toured Tzivos Hashem’s humanitarian operations in Ukraine, she saw the girls dressed in the clothing Moradi had shipped over. “They looked like angels,” Moskowitz recalled. “They were so excited. It was a sight to behold. Our own daughters don’t know hardship. A new dress is nice, nothing special. But to these girls in the orphanage getting a new dress was like getting the Hope diamond.”
Last year, when Moradi’s son Jason reached his bar mitzvah, the Moradis donated medical equipment to a children’s medical clinic near the orphanage. The city-run clinic’s equipment is very outdated, according to Rabbi Glick. “They have good doctors and they try very hard,” he said. “The machine the Moradis gave to the clinic literally helps save hundreds of lives.”
Moradi dismisses praise for her generosity. “This is nothing compared to other people I know who do ten times more,” Moradi said. “It’s just a small token. We can all do a lot more.”
Doing more is important to Adina Moskowitz as well. Several years ago, on her trip to Ukraine, she saw children her daughter’s age begging for food. Back home she related her experiences at her synagogue. Community member Joey Hecht listened to Moskowitz’s speech and heard a call to action. The result was the purchase of a “Wheels for Life” bus. Most nights, Tzivos Hashem staff drive to the forsaken corners that street children call home and offer the kids food, blankets, basic medical care and a chance to get placed in an appropriate home.
The bus has had an amazing effect. Not only have children been saved from street life, but the Ukrainian population has taken notice, too. “We have gained the respect of the general population because of what they see what we do for children – all children, not just Jewish kids,” said Rabbi Glick. It helps combat anti-Semitism and has made Ukrainian officials more amenable to granting Tzivos Hashem’s requests for permits and such.
Moskowitz is uplifted by the unforeseen results of her activism, but not surprised. “You think it is you doing good, but I believe it is G-d’s way of making things happen,” she said. “One good deed leads to another.”