By Nachum Soroka
Ayoung man’s bar mitzvah is all about commitment. Com- mitment to G-d, the Torah, community, and, more broadly, to approach life as an adult. But to be fair, making weighty requests of a boy on the cusp of adolescence rings with irony, and for most thirteen- year-olds, things don’t always shake out so assuredly. That’s just one of the reasons why Avi Faivish and his international tze- dakah, the Bar Mitzvah Fund, are so remarkable. Avi is still in high school at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov and he has remained committed to the organization since he was in Yeshiva Darchei Torah elemen- tary school, when he founded it at the time of his own bar mitzvah.
The purpose of the fund may be self-explanatory: to provide help for families making bar mitz- vahs, but when Avi started it, the need was not so obvious. Thirteen-year-old boys can be highly self-conscious about their bar mitzvahs and associated celebrations, particularly when they are in a large yeshiva class which runs the economic spectrum and the costs associated with this milestone can be too cumbersome on large, tuition burdened families.
“It was at the time of my bar mitzvah, and I noticed that there were a number of boys in my class who were in need of proper bar mitzvahs,” says Avi. So, around the same time that many ado- lescents drop whatever missions they undertook as part of their bar mitzvah prep, with the blessing of his parents and many of the rebbeim and menahalim of the Five Towns, Avi launched his fund.
Since its inception two years ago, the fund has taken off con- siderably and no one is more surprised than Avi. The organization has relationships with many rebbeim and principals in multiple communities who contact it if they have a student in need of anything bar mitzvah related, from the basics like a pair of tefillin to the full underwriting of a seudah. The fund has contributed to bar mitzvahs across the U.S. and even Israel, and, as Avi believes that all bar mitzvah boys deserve a properly prepared rite of passage. It has helped people from all back- grounds, whether not-affiliated, modern orthodox or Chasidic. “We have grown really fast. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this big by now,” Avi related.
Indeed, the Bar Mitzvah Fund is a formidable foundation. It re- cently passed the 100 bar mitz- vah milestone and has contrib- uted amounts totaling well over six figures. With all this, it is just Avi and his father, Dovi Faivish, running the operations in their spare time. But they are quick to point out that there is no way the organization could be on the path it is now without the help of many volunteers who heard about Avi’s work and wanted to be a part of it. These include people in the various communities where the fund has helped and sponsors and vendors with whom the organization has relationships with to help with the cost of bar mitzvah celebrations. The fund held a carnival fundraiser in the Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn last May, a football tournament in the fall, and will be producing a pre-Purim concert in March featuring Lipa, Gad Elbaz and Nissim, all made possible by the work of will- ing volunteers.
Avi may still be a high school sophomore, but running a large charity organization requires some pretty grown-up skills. I asked him if, at least when he first started, people refused to take him seriously. On the contrary, he said, people are impressed by his initiative and commitment to helping others. He admits that operating the fund has taught him a lot about the ins and outs of fund- raising and running a business, and that producing events has given him an informal market- ing degree. But these are just the ancillary benefits of his work. “I see so much about how people are struggling and it feels good to be able to help them. That, to me, is what is important.”
What’s next on the Bar Mitz- vah Fund’s to-do list? For now, Avi says, there is still so much work to be done with what they are doing already that there is no reason to focus on other projects just yet; they’ll be sticking to bar mitzvahs for now. As for what he wants to do when he finishes yeshiva, Avi is still undecided. When there is so much at stake in the present, how can he think about the future?