NY teen turns his passion for cooking into fund-raiser

Boy uses recent bar mitzvah to raise $35,000 to renovate the kitchens of new Ethiopian immigrants.

meir panim 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
meir panim 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Six Ethiopian immigrant families from Kiryat Malachi will start the new year with spanking-new kitchens and cooking utensils thanks to a big-hearted bar mitzvah boy with a passion for cooking. New York native Danny Schwartz, who was in Israel earlier this week to see the fruits of his efforts, used his recent bar mitzvah to raise $35,000 for a unique project run by food distribution charity Meir Panim to renovate the kitchens of new Ethiopian immigrants and teach them how to use some of the modern technology most of us take for granted. "It was amazing to see such a difference between what they had originally and what they have now," Schwartz, 13, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, following a visit to one of the families in Kiryat Malachi. "We saw photos of before and all they had was a hot plate where they did all their cooking. Now they have a full range of equipment in their kitchen. "I really learned what a difference one group of people can make to an individual's life," he added. Schwartz, who said he was addicted from an early age to cooking shows on television and now spends much of his free time cooking meals for his family, made the donation as part of the UJA-Federation of New York's Give a Mitzvah, Do a Mitzvah program. Through the initiative, bar and bat mitzvah kids are encouraged to donate their gifts to a project of their choice that is funded by UJA-Federation in Israel, New York or the former Soviet Union. While each child meets one-on-one with a Federation staff member to discuss their interests and decide what project is suitable for them, Schwartz's mother Erica said her son knew almost immediately that he wanted to donate to a cause involving food. "Danny wrote a description of what he wanted to do with his bar mitzvah gifts and explained why, then he put that letter inside the invitation to his bar mitzvah," she said. However, when Federation staff outlined to the family five possible food-related projects that needed help, Danny could not chose between Meir Panim's new kitchens for new immigrants project or another run by ELEM, the organization for runaway and homeless children and youth at risk. So the family decided to give to both. The family donated an additional $40,000 to refurbish the kitchen of ELEM's restaurant program, which offers at-risk youth the opportunity to learn the basics of working in the kitchen. The kids are paid while working, and, while some go on to become chefs, for the majority it is mostly a way of improving their self-esteem. "I think it is important to let children know that a bar mitzvah is much more than just studying Hebrew or Jewish texts or having a big party and receiving gifts. In New York, there is so much focus on the fancy parties and kids today are focused on the materialistic element," added Erica. "I believe that becoming an adult also means learning the true value of tzedaka (charity)."