Dressing Kids, Petting Cows and Other Ways We Changed the World Today

Guest Written By Karin Pofsky

As a new member of Congregation or Ami, I was excited to begin participating in the many social action opportunities organized by the congregation. As it happened, two projects fell on the same day. Both were so exciting and worthwhile that my kids and I couldn’t pass them up … even when the first one started on a Sunday at 6:00 am!

We drove in the dark to Kohl’s Department Store in Woodland Hills for the Calabasas synagogue’s Foster Kid Childspree, a morning of chaperoned shopping for children in foster care and needy students from a nearby public school. On the ride over, my kids Samantha and Jacob were talking non-stop about meeting their “new friend” and helping her shop at Kohl’s with a $100 gift card donated by the temple. We were met by a well-organized team and quickly checked in, ate bagels and were matched up with our new friend, 11-year-old Kattia. My 5- and 8-year-olds immediately made friends with Kattia, and were pushing the shopping cart through the store, making suggestions on things she might like. We quickly learned that she loved anything sparkly and purple, which made it easy to help her pick things out. The kids had a great time learning about all the things they had in common, from sparkly things to baseball to math. Our whole family helped out, with my youngest pushing the cart and my oldest adding up our purchases in his head. Once we had everything Kattia wanted and then picked out a gift for her mom and her teacher, we went upstairs and had snack together. The kids realized once again how much they had in common, as they all chose the same healthy snacks.

I was so pleased that being with Kattia was like being with just another friend, who had the same likes and dislikes that we did, who loved math and the color purple. My kids realized that she wasn’t different. Kattia was just a kid, and that was a great way for her to feel and a great lesson for my kids to learn.

From Kohl’s, we drove straight to The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, a farm which adopts and heals animals who were abused or neglected. Visiting The Gentle Barn, a social action priority of Congregation Or Ami, as part of Congregation Or Ami’s Jewish values and Social Justice curriculum, the entire Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program of 73 participants gathered to learn about our responsibility to care for animals. We met Ellie, the founder of The Gentle Barn, and heard about how visits by children who had experienced abuse brought healing to both the kids and the animals. My own kids were unable to contain their excitement about getting to hug the cows and pet the sheep. We got pictures of Rabbi Kipnes and a group of children hugging the cows. The experience was unbelievable. Both of my kids, usually afraid of large animals, fell in love with the horses and the cows. We went back for a second turn to both of those areas.

Thanks to the Mishpacha Coordinators Greg Weisman and Joel Abramovitz, we learned how Judaism teaches that we must care for all of the creatures of the earth. We explored how people and animals are not so different, that they often have similar stories and maybe even similar feelings. Interestingly, this was a similar lesson to the one we learned at Childspree earlier in the day.

After hearing her daughter Sarah say, “This is the best Sunday school I’ve ever been too!”, her mom Karen Brownlee said, “Between helping out at Childspree and attending Mishpacha at The Gentle Barn, I was intellectually-challenged, gave back to the community, and was able to spend a meaningful day with my children.”

I was reminded, and my kids began learning today, how even a small gesture, whether it’s shopping with a child who does not normally get that opportunity or hugging a cow which was rescued from abuse, can make a big difference in the world. I want my children to grow up understanding how lucky they are to have what they have and feeling responsible for giving back in some way. If they can do this in a warm and welcoming community, like at Congregation Or Ami, where they feel safe and part of something bigger than themselves, I think they have the best possible chance to grow up to be good, caring, compassionate human beings. If I can accomplish that, then I have not only achieved my own personal goal, but I have helped the world in another small way, by sending two more human beings out there, who will continue to make a difference long into the future.

Kvell or Kvetch? Celebrate or Complain?

Kvell or Kvetch? Celebrate or Complain? That’s the choice we each can make. Thus Torah teaches: I place before you Blessing and Curse… At Or Ami, we choose to count our blessings and kvell (celebrating or sharing our joy). Here are three things we kvell about this week:

Kvell #1: Mitzvah Day. On Sunday, November 2, we helped strangers, foster kids we will never meet. We created 400 comfort bags to ensure that when these children are pulled from neglectful or abusive homes, they have their own toothbrush and t-shirt, a journal to write in, a book to read, and a teddy bear to cuddle. Our sanctuary became a sacred assembly line. Earlier that morning, Mishpacha Family Learning participants explored the nuances of the 36 times Torah teaches us to care for the stranger (more times than the commandments to observe Shabbat or keep kosher). Why kvell? Because the lessons of Torah infuse our community and goad us to transform the world with compassion and justice. We thank all who participated and donated the items, and especially Laurie Tragen-Boykoff and Shari Gillis for organizing Mitzvah Day. (As a member of a caring community, you might email them directly – copy me – to kvell and thank them.) Check out the pictures here.

Kvell #2: Honoring our Volunteers. Recently Or Ami was received the national Fain Social Action award for our work with Foster Care Outreach. Besides being our second Fain award in just six years, it trumpets something we all know: that helping others, particularly the most vulnerable children, animates the very soul of our synagogue. We kvell as we honor all those who lead us to such national recognition. Please read the next article and let us know if you can join us on Friday, November 20th as we honor who volunteered and donated to Prom Prep, Mitzvah Day, Childspree, Shoes that Fit, and ACAC program. A caring community recognizes and thanks those who promulgate the values of caring. Please respond so we can kvell about your caring.

Kvell #3: Office Reorganization. Creating an atmosphere of warmth and caring within our congregation is the responsibility of the whole community. In Leviticus, God tells the WHOLE Israelite community, K’doshim t’hiyu (be holy). The whole community, not just the leaders. That’s why we kvell when we recognize how caring are the office staff members at Or Ami. Their compassion and competence allows us to take our office organization to the next level. Beginning this week, Susie Stark will become the Assistant to the Rabbi (and Cantor), focusing on ritual, B’nai Mitzvah, henaynu (caring community), communications, development and our ever-expanding programming. This position will allow Susie, often called the caring face and voice of Or Ami, to assist me in deepening our caring community. Elisabeth Moore, our Financial Manager, will assume the duties of Office Manager, ensuring that our staff, our facility and our procedures exude the same competence and compassion that she has already brought to our financial office. Many of you have already commented (kvelled) at how, under Elisabeth’s gentle touch, the challah (from a new bakery) tastes sweeter, the building seems more organized and the financial questions are answered quickly and with patience. Except for ritual, B’nai Mitzvah, pastoral and other rabbinic issues, you will want to talk first to Elisabeth when you call. Of course, Kathy Haggerty continues to work diligently to ensure your needs are met with a smile. And we say l’hitra-ot (see you soon) to Lori Cole who leaves our synagogue community to focus on home and family (though we fully hope and expect she will be offering a helping hand during busy periods).

Finally, a kvetch (complaint). JKJK (teen code for “Just Kidding”). I have nothing to kvetch about, because I am actively attempting to follow the rabbinic dictum to count 100 blessings each day; I teach that we might start by just counting 18 blessings daily. If I spend to much time kvetching, I might miss opportunities to kvell. So join me in kvelling and counting blessings.

The Read Red Carpet Treatment: Prom Prep

This year, Congregation Or Ami won the Irving Fain Social Justice Award from the Union for Reform Judaism for our multifaceted project: Supporting Children in Foster Care. We are proud of all of the activities that make up this Project, including Prom Prep, Mitzvah Day, Back to School and Holiday Child Shopping Sprees, and Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker. Read about this year’s Prom Prep (pictures here) in an early version of an article by Elyse Glickman, that appeared in the Jewish Family magazine this month:

The Real Red Carpet Treatment

Volunteers from Calabasas’ Congregation Or Ami and Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom team up with Los Angeles’ Department of Children & Family Services to create the ultimate “dress for success” prom event.

By Elyse Glickman

The senior prom is more than just a fancy party. It’s a right of passage marking a young woman’s transition from high school into womanhood and real life. Though looking glamorous and ending childhood on a high note is front and center, the prom can be as important, meaningful and emotional a day as a wedding or a landmark birthday.

For some girls, especially those who came of age in foster families, and sometimes under the most challenging of circumstances, the opportunity to experience the prom can be life-changing. Prom Prep 101, coordinated by Los Angeles’ Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS), and supported by Jewish community and church volunteers throughout the city, was conceived to not only provide essentials for foster girls’ senior proms, but also life after the prom. Though the program’s original name was “Feel Like a Princess Day,” program coordinator and ACAC (Adopt A Child Abuse) Caseworker Lovette Panthier wanted its name to reflect its more grown-up, self-esteem building objectives.

“We recruit volunteers through word of mouth and synagogue correspondence,” explains Susan Gould, president at Congregation Or Ami, introduced to the program by one of her fellow congregants, Laurie Tragen-Boykoff, several years ago. “Once someone has participated in the program, she always comes back the following year, and usually brings daughters or friends. This is a fantastic way to bring of our congregation’s main tenets, People Matter, to life. By demonstrating and living tzedaka, we teach our youth to take action to help heal the world. My daughter Joanna and I have participated in this event for several years. We have done everything from soliciting dresses from stores to collecting gently-used dresses, working the accessory tables and escorting young ladies at the event. I am thankful my daughter wants to continue participating in this event, as she says it makes her feel grateful for what she has. Furthermore, she is still in touch with Kaylee, the first girl we escorted.”

Thanks to the leadership of Gould and Debbie Echt-Moxness (who took over Prom Prep 101’s management when Gould became Congregation Or Ami’s president), congregants have not only donated volunteer time but also thousands of dollars to maintain the program. Ongoing outreach into the community and communication with program coordinator Panthier as well as Patti Jacobs and Bess Resnick, the event co-charis at Valley Beth Shalom, meanwhile, have this year resulted in generous donations from Wells Fargo Bank as well as dresses from Trendy Collection, Noell and many Jewish congregation members. Other donations, overseen by Rabbi Noah Z. Farkas include shoes from David Miles of Treasure Depot BH, jewelry by Jay and Kathy Ottenstein, and beauty products from OPI and Avon. Professional hairstylist Laurie Heaps will be recruiting the army of hair and makeup artists, while Steve Cohen of Starlite Caterers provides a sumptuous meal for girls and volunteers. Panthier also mentions that this year’s class of prom queens will also receive a copy of the acclaimed self-esteem book Exactly as I Am by Access Hollywood reporter Shaun Robinson.

Echt-Moxness, however, stresses the human touch temple volunteers (such as Arlene Wolff), church volunteers (Donna Mae Pitluck, Shirley Thomson andJanet Fisher), speakers (Sheryl Marcus of the Fashion Institute) and organizers (including Randi Simenhoff) bring to Prom Prep 101 give the girls memories and self-assurance that endure long after their prom’s last dance.

“Many of them come in reluctant, shy and withdrawn,” observes Echt-Moxness. “By the time they walk the red carpet at the end of the day, their spirits are shining, their faces glowing and they are smiling ear to ear. It’s as if they are saying, ‘Ready or not, World, here we come!’ Though we don’t actually give them self-confidence, strength and inner beauty, the way we treat them bring those gifts within each girl out into the open. I see each of these girls like a gem waiting to be set. Though their spirits have been dulled by their life experiences, the day of generosity and loving kindness is like a polish. Volunteers, meanwhile, act as mirrors allowing the girls to see their special-ness in a new, different way.”

Echt-Moxness adds that some of the most life-changing moments for both teens and volunteers take place when young daughters of volunteers tell their escort how beautiful she is. “Beyond dresses and accessories, the feeling of being looked up to is one of the most important gifts teens take home,” she muses. “However, the gift goes both ways. My daughter Molly praised the teen she was working with, and the teen was so moved, she got down on her knees—difficult with all the extra material in the way–took Molly’s hands and said, ‘You are beautiful, too, and don’t you ever forget that!’ The glow on both of their faces and hearts was priceless.”

Charlisa Warner, who did Prom Prep 101 last year, stresses that she’s carried both the material and priceless gifts she received from the event into her new life as a college student. The 19 year-old has even channeled her resulting personal growth into a new business, www.tru-been.com, a web site designed to provide information and resources to girls like herself who are leaving the foster care system and entering adulthood.

“Prom Prep 101 gave me confidence in ways I did not expect,” says Warner. “Before Prom Prep 101, I was the kind of girl who was scared to go to prom. I was intimidated, did not know very many boys, and felt I wasn’t pretty enough. During Prom Prep 101, I learned I am a beautiful person from the inside out. (My experience at Prom Prep 101) has also motivated me to go out and help more people out there like me. I am grateful to my social worker for telling me about the opportunity to be a part of Prom Prep 101. Also, it brought me closer to my foster family because they encouraged me to go through the program, and going to the prom made me finally feel like a normal high school student doing normal high school things. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t have had a dress, the first dress I ever owned, which made me feel like anything was possible.”

Sarah Machat, meanwhile, experienced Prom Prep 101 as a volunteer, and says her work reaching out to girls her age brings extra personal meaning to her Social Work major. “Volunteering for Prom Prep has opened my eyes a lot,” confides Machat. “The most important thing I have learned is that little things can make such a big difference in somebody’s lives. Though I mostly work on the sidelines during the Prom Prep events, I remember there was one girl who was pregnant but still interested in going through the program. Her willingness to ask for help, even though she was more vulnerable than many of the other girls and showing, revealed her inner-strength coming to the surface. It was gratifying to see her confidence in herself rise by the end of her makeover.”

Though she comes from a middle class background, Machat reveals she has an astonishing number of things in common with Warner, including dedicating significant personal spare time to the cause. The freshman serves as Director of Community Service for Alpha Phi (Eta Kappa Chapter) at University of California, Irvine, and is conducting a dress and accessories drive through UC Irvine’s Greek System to offer Prom Prep girls a fine and diverse assortment of goods.

“A kid who has had a tough life and grew up with very little suddenly becomes a role model for a younger child who has plenty,” concludes Congregation Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipnes, an active supporter of Prom Prep 101 and the efforts of Jewish community members committed to the cause year after year. “This occurrence is not only life-changing but equalizing. It reminds us all that we are all people with hopes and dreams, and everybody alive has something positive to teach or contribute to society. Though its hard to track many of the girls after they graduate, we hear stories through their social workers about how many of them have gone on to get good jobs or go to college. We know we are through these programs not only boosting the self-esteem of these girls, but also showing them they have more options than they realized.”

Holiday Childspree: Shop with Foster Kids

Or Ami is again in the news, when our Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker program took to the mall to chaperone 40 foster kids through Kohl’s Department store in our annual Foster Childspree. View more pictures here.

In full, the article in the Acorn newspaper was written by Coordinator Debbie Echt-Moxness, reporting:

Seventy Or Ami volunteers gathered at Kohl’s Department Store on Sunday, December 7th for the annual Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker Holiday Shopping Childspree. Participants chaperoned foster kids throughout Kohl’s, helping them pick out new clothes and toys for the holidays. Or Ami means Light of our People, and this “light” was definitely shining on the faces of these kids and the volunteers who had the honor of being with them. When Mervyn’s Department store could no longer participate, Kohl’s enthusiastically stepped forward. When prior sponsors were unable to provide the gift cards, Or Ami members jumped in with new sponsorships. Grants from the Gogian Foundation, secured by Calabasas resident Kim Gubner, and the Department of Child and Family Services, allowed the congregation to expand Childspree to 40 children!

As Thousand Oaks resident and Congregation Or Ami social action chair Debbie Echt-Moxness recounts, “Miraculously, as I walked through the store and I saw the previously scared looks on the faces of the foster kids transformed by kindness (and new toys) into ear to ear smiles. It was so heart-warming. Spirit-warming, really, if there is such a word!”

One Oak Park resident, face alight with a smile, commented, “We get to go shopping, on someone else’s dime, to help kids in need. How much better can it get?”

When the Bible teaches that we are to care for those least able to care for themselves, it mentions orphans specifically. Judaism teaches that our Biblical ancestors understood that children without parents to care for them deserve special attention and support. These winter holidays (and for Jews, most all holidays) provide important opportunities for giving to others less fortunate than we are. There is no better way to teach it to our kids than to participate in the mitzvah of giving together.

So Little Time Remaining to Soften a Child’s Traumatic Experience

Somehow Or Ami became invested in the sacred work of helping foster kids. It happened slowly. A project here, a program there. Suddenly our calendar was filled with activities aimed at helping care for children who, removed from their homes to escape neglect or abuse, would really appreciate the support of people with extra love to share.

How Foster Kids Entered our Congregational Radar

Our Torah teaches “You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan. If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me” (Exodus 23: 21-22). Like the commandment in the previous verse, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:20), these three categories of people – orphan, widow, stranger – are easily ignored. They have no power. They have no natural advocates.

Yet, God and Torah remind us, as Rabbi Philip Cohen teaches, that they are not anonymous, identity-less Others for whom we have no responsibility, but rather a fully enfranchised human beings, created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image) endowed with the same attributes of those of our own group and nation and therefore deserving of the same humane treatment. The stranger becomes a stranger by title only. The orphan becomes an orphan only by title. Because we are commanded to allow them the real human identity he or she possesses by virtue of, well, by virtue of being human.

Yet, God and Torah remind us, as Rabbi Philip Cohen teaches, that they are not anonymous, identity-less Others for whom we have no responsibility, but rather a fully enfranchised human beings, created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image) endowed with the same attributes of those of our own group and nation and therefore deserving of the same humane treatment. The stranger becomes a stranger by title only. The orphan becomes an orphan only by title. Because we are commanded to allow them the real human identity he or she possesses by virtue of, well, by virtue of being human.

Unique Relationships Lead to Special Caring

Through a unique relationship with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), fostered over the years by Laurie Tragen-Boykoff, Susan Gould, Debbie Echt-Moxness, Shari Gillis and others, Congregation Or Ami maintains a deep commitment to another category of faceless, nameless, powerless people, our community’s foster children. For years, our members have adopted DCFS Child Abuse Caseworkers and sponsored the children in their caseloads. The Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker (ACAC) program pairs congregants with foster children for birthday celebrations and back to school preparations. Twice annually we participate in the annual Child-Spree programs – Back to School Childspree in July and Holiday Childspree in December – during which we help foster care children use donated gift cards to purchase new substantially discounted clothes and school supplies. Mothers and their younger daughters team up for Prom Prep 101, a mitzvah project designed to ensure that foster girls are able to take part in their High School proms. We have held information sessions for Jewish adults to explore the possibility of becoming foster parents.

But perhaps the centerpiece of our outreach to foster care children comes during Mitzvah Day in November when we create over 400 comfort backpacks for children who, in the months to come, will be pulled from their homes to safety.

“Finally, These Kids Have Something to Call Their Own”

When children are pulled from their homes to go into emergency foster placement, they leave with the shirts on their back and little by which to remember family and friends. Most are terrified and confused. At Or Ami, we have an opportunity to change their world, on Sunday, November 2nd from 11:00 am-1:00 pm.

Join us on as we assemble bags of comfort that will greet these children (ages 5-16 years) as they unexpectedly go into emergency foster placement. Our Or Ami community has once again committed to provide more than 400 bags filled with items of comfort and necessity. On Mitzvah Day, the synagogue is transformed into an awesome assembly line for compassion and caring. We create age-appropriate comfort bags complete with pillow cases personalized with messages of hope, clothes, toiletries, games, toys, journals, and an individualized card expressing love and caring.

Recently, an Or Ami congregant and attorney with a decade of experience in Department of Children and Family Services told us that we cannot imagine the true value these comfort bags bring to individuals pulled from their homes. When these children are handed one of Or Ami’s special comfort bags, personalized with reassuring and comforting messages, they have a moment of consolation and encouragement. They have something to call their own. We hear the same response from social workers who are responsible for these children. These children need us and are counting on each member of our congregation to make something wonderful happen!

Help! We Have Only 2 Weeks to Collect Items

Because the High Holy Days were so late, we have only two short weeks to collect enough supplies to help these children. We need up to 400 each of:

* coloring books, crayons, markers
* activity books (mazes,crossword,sudoku)**
* pens, pencils
* writing journals (for teenagers)
* small photo albums (don’t forget the teens)**
* books for 15-17 year olds (used ok if in good shape)
* night lites**
* small hand-held games/toys (for teens too!)**
* toiletries (deodorant, shampoo, conditioner)
* girls’ accessories (hair clips, head bands,etc…)
* t-shirts (youth large only)
* small stuffed animals

Do you know someone who owns a business, who can donate some of these items? Do you have a neighbor or a friend whose company can help us get ahold of any of these items from someone with whom they do business?

Of course, tzedakah is needed and welcome!! Send your check, payable to Congregation Or Ami, to the temple. Write “Mitzvah Day” on the memo line. Or donate online (scroll down to Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker Fund).


Help us collect the items in the next two weeks.
Then make time to help us assemble the comfort bags.

Questions? Contact our Mitzvah Day co-chairs Laurie Tragen-Boykoff or Shari Gillis.

Prom Prep 101: Foster Girls Prepare for Prom

Hedi Gross and Rabbi Kipnes write:

Congregation Or Ami teamed up with other synagogues and churches to again run Prom Prep 101. The Calabasas synagogue, as part of its ongoing commitment to help children in the foster care system, has latched onto the Prom Prep 101 as an opportunity to give back. Young foster girls ages 15-18 came from the Department of Children and Family Services to take part in making their upcoming Prom a beautiful memory. Most of these girls were able to go to their proms because of Prom Prep.

Event chair Debbie Echt-Moxness reflected back on her heartfelt call for volunteers and dress donations. In response to Debbie’s congregation-wide mailing, Congregation Or Ami’s Mureau Road synagogue was overwhelmed with prom dresses – new and slightly used, jewelry, make up and endless offers to volunteer the day of the event. Debbie recalled that “We told people that Prom Prep 101 was a wonderful opportunity to get involved and make a difference in the lives of foster care kids. Our ‘goal’ was to help make 50 under-privileged girls feel beautiful and special, inside and out. I truly believe that we all come away from this experience feeling blessed and holy, for having made someone else feel more whole.”

At Prom Prep 101, volunteers signed in, put on name tags, and were given a tour through separate rooms of shoes, accessories, and professional make-up artists and hair stylists who volunteered their time and day off to help out. Calabasas Oaks resident Hedi Gross, who brought her daughter Molly, captured the overwhelming feeling of goodness: “Nothing prepared us for the emotion we felt when we walked into a room FILLED with beautiful gowns, broken down by size and color (most with tags still on them). It was AWESOME! To realize that each girl would feel like Cinderella for the day was simply beautiful…breath-taking. I looked around to see if I was the only one crying, but all the other mothers were wiping away tears at this awesome sight!”

Once the teenage girls began to arrive, Prom Prep 101 quickly went into motion. In the main sanctuary, the girls received beauty tips on what to wear, what not to wear and “the message that our clothing puts out into the world.” Escorts were assigned to their girls, blow dryers turned on, and make-up as applied. Calabasas cousins Molly Gross and Carly Feinstein popped into a “dress room” to help a girl named Melissa (not her real name). Although Melissa was already being ushered/hosted by a mother-daughter team, Melissa quickly took to my Molly and Carly. Before you knew it, Melissa had her own large team, primping and supporting her as she moved from beauty station to station. Melissa chose a gorgeous dress, picked out accessories, sat with the hair stylist and the make up artist. She looked divine. Walking down the aisle for the fashion show, Melissa appeared to walk on air.

Prom Prep 101 reminded participants, the foster girls and volunteers alike, about the power of kindness and compassion to transform lives. Hedi recalls that “It was quite obvious that Melissa was a girl with a light within. Eighteen years old girl, attending college next year, she adores track and field. Melissa is bright, happy, confident, and on a mission to help the world. I found it so moving that she was offering to my girls words of encouragement! She told them to “believe in yourself” and “you can do anything in this lifetime. Originally, I thought we would need to be offering words of encouragement to her. We went there believing we could help someone feel better about themselves (even for just one day) but in reality we left feeling like the lucky ones, simply for having met these girls.”

Professional photographer Jaime Rothstein volunteered to photograph Prom Prep 101. The Calabasas resident talked about the delightful experience photographing the teens. “It truly was an honor to be part of such a day that puts so many smiles on so many young girls’ faces. I am so proud and in awe of all who organized this day for being angels and giving so many girls their wings to fly and feel beautiful and confident and hopeful and loved. I know there is a God because of what I experienced today.”

Judaism teaches that mitzvah (commandment or ethical action) is found in the giving, but the true gift is in the warmth one feels long after the event is over. For more information about Prom Prep 101 or to volunteer for next year’s event, contact Or Ami president Susan Gould at (818) 880-4880 or [email protected]

Mervyn’s Child Spree: Spreading the Light to Foster Kids

It is wonderful to feel so proud of our Congregation Or Ami!

Deborah Echt-Moxness, Social Action Co-chair, explains:

When Or Ami’s President Sue Gould found out there was not going to be Mervyn’s-sponsored Holiday Shopping Child Spree this year, she immediately went to our generous and compassionate Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who instantly fronted tzedakah from his Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund for 23 foster children from the Department of Child and Family Services in Chatworth to go shopping at Mervyn’s in Canoga Park. When the foster children arrived at the store, they were greeted by 23 Temple congregants who escorted them individually and helped the children shop for things they needed and wanted. The smiles on everyone’s face speaks louder than words and attests to the fact that when you give, you get much more back in return: the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing you helped someone and made them feel special! Each foster child had $122.00 to shop for essentials and Christmas gifts.

For all the Temple members, this was a meaningful way to begin the week of Chanukah by spreading the Light into the hearts of foster kids! This event would never have taken place without the devotion and help of Lovette Panthier, who runs the Adopt a Child Abuse Case-worker Program.

View the Child Spree pictures.

Prom Prep 101: Helping Foster Kids Experience the Joy of Being a Teen

Or Ami member Michelle Feinstein and her daughter Carly helped raise up a spark of holiness this month at Prom Prep 101. Michelle writes:

“We were like fairy godmothers getting Cinderella ready for the ball,” said Carly Feinstein (age 7 ½) of her experience in participating in the Prom – Prep Mitzvah. About 50 young foster girls ages 15-18 came from the Department of Children and Family Services to take part in making the Prom a beautiful memory. Most of these girls are able to go to their proms because of Prom Prep – 100. It was as magical an experience for them as it was for the over 75 volunteers who gave their time to assist in the process. We arrived at Bethel Lutheran Church in Encino to find that the classrooms had been transformed into Glamour stations for the girls to visit. Each volunteer was assigned a girl to spend the day with, and escort her through the process of selecting a beautiful gown to wear, choosing accessories to complete the ensemble from shoes, handbags and jewelry. We then continued with hair styling and makeovers by professional stylists, including manicures! Photographers were on hand to capture the before and after shots of the girls – they were lovely!!! The afternoon was culminated by a runway presentation, an inspiring speaker and a luncheon. “I was so proud to be a part of making the day so nice for someone who truly needed it. It was a great opportunity for my daughter and I to do this together – we will certainly do it again next year!”

Joanna Gould, who attended the event this year and last year and whose mother Susan Gould helped organize Or Ami’s participation in the event, spoke in her Bat Mitzvah d’var Torah (speech) about the longer lasting relationships that develop from these mitzvah opportunities:

I also volunteered at an event called “Prom Prep 101” where teenage girls in foster care attend a special event to select a dress and accessories to wear to their prom. I met this amazing girl named Kaylee there and we have kept in touch ever since. My family is mentoring her. In addition, I have been sponsoring a little girl named Andrea who was severely burned in an accident. We helped make her life easier by getting an air conditioner for her so that she would not be so miserable in her compression garment. I also was able to take her shopping for items at the Mervyns’ Holiday Child-Spree event last month.