January 18, 2007
The fab fundraising fifth-grader
Many people took it upon themselves to raise vast sums of money for Israel during the conflict with Lebanon this summer, but how many were still in elementary school?
Ten-year-old Shira Bouskila was. The Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy fifth-grader raised $24,000 for the children of Shlomi, a northern border town of about 5,000 people hit by Katyushas from Lebanon.
Bouskila first learned about Shlomi when she visited the town during a summer 2005 trip with her father, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Westwood's Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. That same year she and her friends decorated spoons with Israeli flags and sold them to buy Chanukah presents for Shlomi's children.
"When the war broke out, we were watching Israeli television and Katyushas landed on Shlomi. Shira was quite frightened because she knows the kids, and she wanted to go there and be with them," Rabbi Bouskila said.
"It's not the right time," he told her.
"They were really going through hard times -- they were in bomb shelters all summer, and I felt really bad for them," Shira said.
So Shira decided to raise money for the town instead.
She and her friends made and sold High Holiday cards and solicited donations from her friends, school and synagogue. (The temple held two separate campaigns, which raised about $200,000 each, for Israeli towns in the north and south.) Donations to Shira's campaign exceeded expectations -- instead of sending in $18 dollars, some people sent in $180.
Rather than sending the money directly to Shlomi, Shira wanted to do something special for the kids.
"I really thought about 'what would I want to do?' I'm just a kid like any other kid," Shira said. She decided to take them to "Festigal," the December Israeli rock festival for children that features a roundup of Israeli pop stars. The show is the largest stage production in the country, featuring 80 concerts in nine different cities.
In December, Shira went with her father to Israel to throw a party for the Shlomi children, and sponsored 350 third- to fifth-graders for a day at the festival in Haifa. The remainder of the funds will go to sponsoring more "days of fun" for the kids on Tu B'Shevat, Purim and Yom Ha'Atzmaut.
"I'm extremely proud to see a 10-year-old girl have such a strong love for Israel and particularly have a connection to kids and care about their well-being," said Rabbi Bouskila, who is planning a February trip to Israel with some members of his synagogue.
Shira is happy she could bring joy to the kids of Shlomi, and she said she's learned a lot about her own life in the process.
"I learned I'm so lucky to have a community that helps me have everything I have," she said. "I have so much, and the kids that I did this for really aren't as lucky as I am. I feel more appreciative of everything more now."