Maya Steinberg, 17, never imagined that Purses for Peace, the bat mitzvah project she started when she was 12, would be so successful.
Yet, by reselling used handbags to raise funds for Jewish World Watch (JWW) she has raised $15,000 for the Encino-based organization. And hearing Steinberg — a senior at Beverly Hills High School — talk about it, it’s not hard to see why the project has flourished.
“I feel very passionate about helping others and making a difference, and I also love fashion; it’s so fun,” she said in a recent interview. “I really think Purses for Peace is the best of both worlds for me.”
The money supports JWW’s Solar Cooker Project, a flagship program of the anti-genocide organization.
The Solar Cooker Project provides women confined to refugee camps in central Africa with the tools to build solar cookers so they don’t have to leave the safety of the camps to search for firewood, risking rape and even death from pillaging terrorists, according to JWW’s Web site.
Steinberg said it was the Jewish concept of l’dor v’dor (passing on tradition from one generation to the next) and tzedakah (charitable giving) that inspired her when she was preparing for her bat mitzvah. She raised $3,000 from her first sale of purses, which she held at her parents’ home in Beverly Hills. Highlights included one customer paying $250 for an alligator-skin bag. The sale went well, and she knew the cause was important, so she decided to keep it going.
“I was just, like, ‘Wow, this is so exciting. This is something I would love to continue doing because it’s fun and making such a great impact,’ ” she said.
But before the used bags are turned into solar-cooking gold, several steps must be undertaken. She has to continually replenish her inventory of handbags, which she says often come from relatives, family friends and members of Stephen S. Wise Temple, the synagogue her family attends. She cleans each bag, and then seeks out opportunities to sell them. This last task has not presented too much difficulty for Steinberg — she has brought her purses everywhere, including JWW’s annual Walk to End Genocide, among other events.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik, president of JWW, praised Steinberg for becoming engaged with serious subject matter at such a young age.
What does the future hold for the project? Next year, Steinberg will enter college, but she is working with JWW to find other teens to continue the project.
In addition to fashion, Steinberg said she is interested in travel. Africa, of course, is high on the list of places she’d like to visit.