A couple of months before her bat mitzvah last year, Atara Rush, a seventh-grader at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, attended the Israel Solidarity Rally in front of The Jewish Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. Someone handed her a poster to hold up. It was from the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund (IESF), and on it were the faces of more than 100 Israelis killed in the current intifada. She spent the entire rally memorizing those faces.
She decided to donate her bat mitzvah gifts to the fund, which distributes the money to those injured in attacks and to the families of victims.
An avid athlete, Rush also decided to involve her classmates through a basketball marathon. With her invitation, she sent out letters to guests asking them to make donations in her honor to IESF, and cards to the 40 girls in her class, asking them to get pledges for each basket they could make in a 30 second period.
"Everyone loves basketball in my grade and by doing it with basketball everyone got really into it. They were doing it for Israel, plus they were having a lot of fun at the same time," says Rush, an all-star in the Beverly Hills Girls Softball League and on the Hillel girls basketball team.
The family set up a 10-foot basket in the Gold Room at B'nai David Judea, where Rush also lead the guests in a Torah study about the Messiah.
While the karaoke machine kept guests entertained, the basketball marathon was the hit of the party. One girl hit 11 baskets. Together, the girls raised $800 to send to the fund.
That sum was in addition to more than $1,000 that came to the Rush family for IESF, and many more untallied donations that were sent directly to fund.
Rush says her little brother often reminds her of the many more gifts she could have gotten, but she feels good about her decision.
"When I look back at what I did and I see what everyone else also does for Israel and how they contribute, I feel like it was the least I could do," she says.
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