Leora's Mitzvah Day

Thirteen-year-old Leora Stern might not be old enough to donate blood yet, but that didn’t stop her from helping Hoxworth save lives here in the Tri-State community.

Like most teens her age, Leora has a packed social life and extra-curricular schedule. Her mother, Brett Stern, notes that Leora is a competitive dancer, a member of Sycamore Junior High’s show choir, and a teaching assistant for second graders at Adath Israel Congregation. Leora and her mother are both active members of the Jewish community in Cincinnati—and as such, they were excited to celebrate Leora’s 13th birthday and bat mitzvah celebration this fall.

Most people are familiar with a bat mitzvah as a coming of age ritual for Jewish girls--the point at which she is recognized by Jewish tradition as having the same rights as an adult, and becomes morally and ethically responsible for her decisions and actions. However, many are not aware of the added element of community service as a part of this celebration.

Leora and her mother Brett posing for a photo

Leora and her mother Brett

 “It is standard fare to have a bar or bat mitzvah celebration involve some sort of a ‘mitzvah project’ - an undertaking on the bar or bat mitzvah student's part to somehow make the world a little bit brighter,” explains Brett, Leora’s mother.  “Sometimes, this involves volunteering in one or more locations. Sometimes, it involves collecting items for those in need from folks who come to celebrate. For Leora's bat mitzvah, we knew we wanted to do something immersive to help her truly understand the importance of her role, as an emerging Jewish adult, in the work of ‘tikkun olam’ - repairing the world.” 

Repairing the world might seem like a tall order--but Leora approached the challenge head-on, brainstorming different ideas for how to positively impact her community and add a bit of joy and light to the world.  But instead of picking just one act of community service—like volunteering at a soup kitchen or collecting items for the needy—Leora took her mitzvah project a few steps further by organizing an entire day of service, enlisting dozens of volunteers and benefitting several different organizations and individuals.

“Leora latched onto the idea of creating a whole mitzvah day - a day of community service when she would bring together a large number of volunteers to do a variety of community service projects, taking place during the weekend of her bat mitzvah,” says Brett. “In the end, Leora's mitzvah day involved about a hundred volunteers. Leora truly took the reigns and worked diligently to recruit volunteers, secure materials with her own funds, and divide volunteers into teams that she would then oversee.”

Thanks to Leora’s dedication, organization and hard work, her mitzvah day on Sunday, September 1st resulted in countless good deeds and positive impact for her community, with friends and family coming together to make a difference.

“One team traversed the neighborhood, collecting children's books for homeless children and canned goods for a food bank. Another made blankets for kids in foster care, while another team held a lemonade stand to support the medical care for a child in our community,” Brett recounts.

“And on top of all of this, the Hoxworth van was parked outside my house for volunteers and neighbors to donate blood!”

Leora took the initiative to promote her blood drive and recruit donors, ensuring it was a success. She designed flyers, and hand-delivered them with her sister to the entire neighborhood to get donors signed up. “Together, we spread the word via email to everyone attending the bat mitzvah, and she created a plea for volunteers that I videoed and posted to my social media,” Brett adds. “Our synagogue, Adath Israel Congregation, has had a mitzvah day of its own for years, and the Hoxworth van has always been a part of that day. It never occurred to us to have a mitzvah day without it!”

Leora’s hard work paid off, with donors filling the bus throughout her Mitzvah Day.

“Every time we boarded the bus, we saw the smiling faces of friends, family members, neighbors, and even complete strangers who came out that day just to help in this important way, and we were truly touched,” says Brett. “We had several first time donors, including folks who were nervous. Leora and I were both struck by the power and importance of community, and how community comes together to do what's need and what's right.”

Leora’s Mitzvah Day Blood Drive resulted in 38 registered donors (including 19 first-time donors), 27 units of whole blood collected, and more than 80 lives potentially impacted by those lifesaving red cells, platelets and plasma.

To Leora’s mother, the success of Leora’s Mitzvah Day and the accompanying blood drive is especially meaningful—because Brett’s own life was saved by blood donors.

“Immediately following the birth of Leora's older sister, I developed a very rare and life-threatening condition that caused my liver to split in half and caused a drastic drop in my blood pressure,” Brett recalls. “Right before I lost consciousness, I distinctly remember the doctor running out of the room to order blood for me - and quick!”

“The fact that my doctor was able to so quickly diagnose my condition and prescribe blood transfusions is the only reason why I am alive today when most patients with my condition do not survive. I literally owe my life to blood donations,” she continues. “Blood donations not only saved my life, but also lengthened my father's life while he was battling cancer. I am truly grateful.”

Brett isn’t just grateful to the donors who saved her life—she is appreciative of the donors who rolled up a sleeve to make Leora’s mitzvah blood drive a success, and Hoxworth Blood Center echoes those sentiments. Hoxworth needs at least 400 blood donors every day to help patients in local hospitals, and people like Leora and her Mitzvah Day donors are essential to meeting that goal.

“In Judaism, there is no good deed greater than that of saving a human life. This is exactly what those blood donors did that day,” Brett finishes. “What a beautiful way to mark Leora's bat mitzvah - her entrance into a Jewish adulthood that we hope will be filled with acts of loving kindness.”

If you’re interested in following Leora’s example and hosting a blood drive, get started today at https://hoxworth.org/donors/host.html