Some people may go skiing or head to a warm weather climate for the holidays. But one Glencoe family spent their the winter break traveling to another continent to donate goods to charity, and then to another unconventional destination for their son’s bar mitzvah.
Toting duffle bags filled with more than 1,000 pounds of medical supplies, clothing, shoes, and sports equipment, husband and wife Mike Rosenthal and Annice Moses, along with their four children, traveled to Ethiopia in late December. The family traveled to the African nation twice before.
“It is easy to feel Ethiopia is so far away, but when you know there is a kid in Ethiopia that needs vitamins or a pair of shoes and you can bring that bottle of vitamins and supply the pair of shoes, it connects you to a child that initially felt so far away,” Moses said.
Moses and Rosenthal have made charitable efforts part of their lives for the past two decades, even before they were married, volunteering in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.
Today, after 20 years of marriage and now with four children in tow, the call to help others remains the same.
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t make the world a better place for other people?” Moses asked. “I want my kids to think about that, too.”
To prepare for the 2016 trip, Moses collected goods from friends, family and strangers for several months, storing the items throughout the house and garage.
The family was met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, by representatives of the aid groups receiving the goods. The family then traveled to an orphanage in Addis Ababa where son Ryder, who about to have his bar mitzvah, was struck by the dilapidated nature of the community home’s basketball hoop.
Ryder decided to send all the gift money he would receive for his bar mitzvah to pay for a new hoop.
“They really wanted a basketball hoop,” Ryder said. “It’s perfectly fine for me to give up my money to people who are less fortunate.”
His mother was thrilled with her son’s decision.
“It was wonderful for me as a parent that Ryder came back and he recognizes there is more work to be done in the world,” Moses said.
After three days in Ethiopia, which included a trip to a wildlife rescue refuge, the family took off for Israel, where Ryder would celebrate his bar mitzvah.
It was a low-key affair, as the family was joined by a small group of friends and relatives. It was a similar path taken by his older brother, BJ, two years ago.
“Your child is going through this transitional experience and where else would it be more transitional than Israel? It is a special place,” Moses said.
Originally scheduled to take place at the Western Wall, drizzly weather forced the ceremony inside to a Jerusalem hotel conference room, according to Moses. But Ryder read his Torah portion – the obligatory part of any bar or bat mitzvah – and there was plenty of celebration afterward.
“It was an awesome experience to have,” Ryder recalled. “It was really fun.”
Over the next few days, there was some sightseeing throughout Israel before flying back to the U.S.
While still fighting off jet lag, Moses said she hopes her children remember what they did in Ethiopia for the rest of their lives.
“You have to make the world a better place,” she said. “It is not going to happen on its own.”
Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelancer for Pioneer Press.
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