The 13-year-old Santa Barbara boy used the occasion of his bar mitzvah to raise several thousand dollars for a new high-tech medical tower at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem that will help serve Israel, especially in times of crisis.
"This young man was amazingly generous.... You don't see that in a young person today that often," said Cheryll Welkowsky, co-chair of Hadassah Southern California's Northern Area Resource Center and former president of the Santa Barbara Hadassah group.
As part of his bar mitzvah project at Santa Barbara's Congregation B'nai B'rith, Michael was asked to donate 10 percent of his bar mitzvah money to charity, as well as keep up with current events.
In January, Michael picked up his mother's Hadassah bulletin, and an article on Edward and Dorothy Caplan's gift caught his attention. The Santa Barbara couple had given $50,000 toward the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower at Hadassah Hospital and challenged the community to match their donation.
Among the factors that encouraged Michael to take on the medical center as a charitable cause included its regular treatment of terror victims, its commitment to treating patients despite their inability to pay and its reputation as a research hospital.
"It seemed like a very good cause," said Michael, who will be an eighth-grader at La Colina Junior High in the fall.
Charitable giving is a regular family affair for the Feldmans. Michael's parents, Phillip Feldman, a satellite systems performance analyst, and Raya Feldman, a statistics and applied probability professor at UC Santa Barbara, hold an annual tzedakah roundtable each December, during which Michael and his 16-year-old sister, Ellen, help determine the course of the family's charity dollars.
The family donates to 40 organizations annually, and the list changes slightly every year, Phillip Feldman said. Over the years, the Feldmans have made donations to organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Zionist Organization of America and the Southern Poverty Law center.
Since Michael has had a hand in determining his family's tzedakah over the last three years, he's taken the charitable message to heart. Instead of following the 10 percent guideline set forth by his cantor, Mark Childs, the Santa Barbara youth decided he would donate all of his bar mitzvah money to the new Hadassah tower.
His sister did a similar thing for her bat mitzvah, donating her money to OneFamily Fund to help pay for an Israeli girl's bat mitzvah.
Michael and his parents made inserts for his bar mitzvah invitation that requested each guest send a check to Hadassah in place of a gift. Since his March bar mitzvah, Michael has gathered almost $3,800 in donations from family and friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
"I was surprised," Michael said. "We raised more than I expected."
The Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower, which will be dedicated in 2012, will include 500 hospital beds, 20 operating rooms and a 50-bed intensive-care unit. In addition to a modern heart institute, the tower will feature gene therapy, advanced imaging in operating rooms, robotics and computer-guided surgery, cutting-edge monitoring and telemedicine. Two floors located underground can be transformed quickly to accommodate 400 hospital beds in a time of crisis.
So far, Santa Barbara Hadassah has raised $101,000 for the project, and Michael's donation ranks as the 10th largest donation for the chapter, Welkowsky said. In total, Hadassah has raised $190 million toward the new tower.
Although Hadassah is a woman's organization, it has more than 30,000 men who are involved as associates, whose enrollment fees have created an endowment fund of more than $9 million for Hadassah Medical Organization operations. (Associates can be of any age, including newborns.) The organization has made Michael an associate member because of his fundraising efforts.
When Edward and Dorothy Caplan heard about Michael's fundraising effort, they made sure to attend the bar mitzvah. Michael said he was happy to meet them.
"My bar mitzvah was definitely the best day of my life so far," Michael said. "My haftarah portion was from Jeremiah, who taught us about things like social justice and helping others. Doing a project like this helps to put those ideas into action."
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