Paramus—Bat mitzvah projects are all the buzz these days. With our schools’ collective emphasis on mitzvah projects, chesed hours, giving to the less fortunate and needy, it seems like everyone wants to join the growing trend of chesed. The Guzman family of Teaneck—with their 11-year-old daughter Temima at the helm—saw a need and have, for the last six months, dedicated their lives to making a difference.
In May of 2013, Temima Guzman, a 6th grade student at RYNJ, chose to attend an Areyvut evening Mitzvah Fair at Yeshivat Noam. While there, she and her mom, Gila, had an opportunity to meet a variety of organizations serving the Jewish community. That’s where I first met Temima in my capacity as the director of Yad Leah, a North Jersey-based organization that collects new and gently used clothing and ships that clothing to various communities throughout Israel. I regularly enjoy the privilege of meeting dozens of volunteers from all streams of Jewish life, and Temima struck me as a mature pre-bat mitzvah-aged girl, obviously interested in the work we do—providing clothing to adults, girls and boys that they otherwise would not be able to afford.
In our later conversations, Temima and her mother explained that this struck a particular chord. As a typical young lady growing up in Bergen County, Temima and her friends love to shop. She loves fashion and she loves clothes. In fact, Temima, from the age of three, started designing doll clothes. She has since moved on to Barbie and American Girl doll clothes and meticulously maintains a portfolio displaying all her designs. In her spare time, she crafts original clothing accessories for her sisters and friends. By using extra material and items she finds lying around the house, she designs head bands and jewelry and jazzes up regular shirts and outfits to give them a brand new look and style.
Given her passion and talent for fashion, Temima found it particular painful to learn that other Jewish girls her age do not have the same opportunity to enjoy clothes the way she does. More significantly, she learned that there are Jewish kids living in poverty in Israel who don’t have clothes that fit them properly or are even warm enough for the cold season ahead. So on that evening in May at the chesed fair in Yeshivat Noam, Temima turned to her Mom and said, “We need to do something.”
Starting that very week, Temima and Gila began emailing and talking to their friends and neighbors to tell them how important it is to give their extra clothing to Yad Leah. Each week, Temima sorts through all the clothing that has been dropped on her door step for quality and then for style. She wants to make sure that each piece of clothing she donates to Yad Leah is a nice piece that she knows someone else will enjoy. She also wants to make sure that it is all separated by size and gender to do her part in helping Yad Leah organize the clothing in an effective way. Temima then weighs that week’s donations, pack them up, and brings them to the Yad Leah Teaneck drop-off site. To date, Temima has successfully collected, sorted and donated over 500 pounds of excellent quality clothing.
Once taken to the drop-off site, the clothing is brought to Yad Leah’s facility in Passaic for packing and shipping to Israel. Once the clothing arrives in Israel, it is distributed through Yad Leah’s large network of over 30 gemachim where it is sold at a nominal fee. Yad Leah thus preserves individuals’ sense of pride and dignity by providing a store-like environment where people can shop for affordable clothing that meet their families’ needs.
Yad Leah currently collects a broad range of clothing for children, teens and adults including all basic necessities: coats, Shabbos and yom tov clothing and simcha gowns. Yad Leah works almost exclusively on a volunteer basis, leveraging every donated dollar to provide $60 worth of clothing. Last year, Yad Leah was able to distribute over $4,000,000 worth of clothing with a budget of under $75,000.
On behalf of Yad Leah and the thousands of families we help in Israel, we offer Temima and the Guzman family a hearty mazel tov on Temima’s bat mitzvah and on all her accomplishments. We wish her many years of continued strength, ability, passion and creativity to help the Jewish community.
By Jessica Katz