I was the president of the first HOPE Club in middle school. I go to Imagine Middle School West and am entering 8th grade. HOPE Club was a huge success and became very popular at my school. The members are all very happy to be there and are very cooperative and determined to make the club grow. We followed the curriculum and even added a few things our own. It has been a great year and a lot of fun. I believe it helped every one who attended the meetings. Many people even walked up to me to tell me that HOPE Club really helped them and know people that should come next year.
To me, HOPE Club is a safe place you can go to to talk about your problems, how you’re feeling, or just relax and let it out. We have activities at every meeting that everyone participates in and we talk about the topics shown in the curriculum. If a member tells me that they’re going through something and that they would like to focus on that topic during the meeting, we spend the whole hour going around trying to help the individual and sharing stories of our own. It’s a big bonding experience, we have lots of fun, and we learn a lot about each other.
For my Bat Mitzvah on March 22, 2013, I wrote a portion of my D’var Torah speech about HOPE Club and why I decided to start it.
Here is the speech:
Shabbat Shalom! The parashat for this week is Shemini. In Shemini, Moses instructs Aaron and his sons on what they must bring as offerings to the sanctuary as atonement for any sins ever committed by either themselves or the Israelites. In offering them, the entire people are to be forgiven by God for any wrongdoings. Aaron and his sons carefully followed what they are to do and once Aaron finishes blessing the people, God sends a fire to burn the animals Aaron and his sons had on the altars. Later on, without command from God or Moses’ approval, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, take pans and place an “alien fire before God”, creating their own sacrifices. God replies by sending a fire of His own and destroying Nadab and Abihu. Like I once did, many of you might be wondering, “Why? Why would God punish them so severely? What could Nadab and Abihu have done that made God so angry?” Well, I’m here to tell you to stop wondering why. Stop wasting your time. You’re never going to find a single answer or explanation. Our tradition is full of rabbinic speculation as to why Nadav and Avihu were killed, some suggesting that they were punished for doing something unforgivably wrong and others suggesting that they were rewarded…brought directly to God for doing something unexpectedly right. But there is no consensus. It’s almost as if the Torah is deliberately ambiguous. You don’t know why, I don’t know why, nobody knows why…and perhaps this is the ultimate lesson of the story. We cannot explain the reason for God’s actions; we must accept them. We will never be able to understand why because—just like in life—we cannot understand God’s logic. We must however make the best out of our challenges and our constantly evolving “new normal”. It just happens that for my Mitzvah Project, I run a HOPE Club at my school. HOPE stands for: Helping Overcome Problems Effectively. In the HOPE Club, we learn how to cope with realities that are not perfect. All the members voluntarily share their stories in a relaxed—yet fun—nonjudgmental environment. I don’t know why my friend’s dad often drinks and drives; I don’t know why a little boy in my sister’s school was just diagnosed with cancer; I don’t understand why or how God chooses certain people to have certain things happen to them. But that’s okay because it’s not my—it’s not OUR—job to know why. It’s our job to learn how to deal with it, how to cope with it. That’s why I believe that what I’m doing is so important and so meaningful. Every Tuesday at HOPE Club, we learn new problem solving and coping tools to help deal with what life gives us, be it setbacks or celebrations. We learn about how other people were able to handle their own hardships, like the Jews from the Holocaust or mothers who lost their children to drug overdose. Maybe even how Aaron managed to go on with life with his other two sons after Moses informed him that Aaron’s other sons were killed and he was not to mourn. One of the things that empowers me is that my Uncle Adam wasn’t able to cope with the way his life was unfolding and committed suicide. I don’t want anyone to have to feel so bad that they want to end their life, and that is another reason why this safe haven, called HOPE Club, is so important for us kids today. What we learn in HOPE Club will help us through our teenage and college years and the rest of our adult lives. Aaron is a great example of not spending his entire life wondering why God killed Nadab and Abihu. He managed to live his life focusing on his two remaining sons and didn’t dwell on the past. We need to accept what God gives us and make the best of every situation because so long as we’re still here and breathing, it’s our responsibility as Jews (and as people in general) to choose happiness and choose to continue living life to the fullest. In other words, everything in life does NOT happen for a reason….everything just happens, and we have the power to choose how we respond. To conclude, I’d like to thank Rabbi Watstein for helping me better understand my Torah portion, Cantor Lieberman and Lori Kandel for their guidance with the service, and Lori Neiberg for her continued dedication and patience. I would also like to thank my grandparents, Mimi and Grandpa, for helping make this day possible, and all my siblings for understanding that their interests had to take a back seat while we all prepared for this special day. Most of all, I’d like to thank my parents for their loving support, devotion, and always being there for me when I need it, always having my back. Thank you all for coming tonight and celebrating with me. Shabbat Shalom, everyone!