JNF Wire: Ohio Teen's Bar Mitzvah Project Helps Sderot's Children

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There is a place in Southern Israel where children can be children. Where no matter what the political climate is their right to play will not be revoked, and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Sderot Indoor Recreation Center is that place.


When Ethan Winger was approaching his Bar Mitzvah, he was faced with the decision of where to direct his efforts for his Bar Mitzvah project. An active and happy kid, Winger’s decision to help the children of Sderot didn’t seem to be a hard one to make. “I teamed up with three other guys for this project. We made flyers and posted a link for donations on the JNF website. We sold tickets to our local trampoline park for $20 and over 120 kids came. It was great!”


Berry Feldman, Ethan’s godfather and a JNF Northern Ohio Board Member, beams with pride when he talks about the feat Winger undertook. “He chose this by himself, and for us to be able to come from Cleveland and share this moment with him, with the people in Israel, it’s really something.” The feeling Feldman describes isn’t just limited to him, the whole family shares a unique experience with a land they feel so connected to.“The last time I was in Israel was over 20 years ago,” says David Winger, Ethan’s father. “For us to be here now and watch my son put on tefellin for the first time at the Western Wall is overwhelming.”


The impact isn’t just felt by the Winger family. To the children of Sderot, who have faced over seven years of rocket shelling, this recreation center is irreplaceable to them.


The care and love is obvious from the moment you walk into the recreation center. Facility manager Shmuel Ohayon (pictured at left with Ethan) diligently runs and maintains it as if it were his own home. The jumping castle is impeccable, the dolls organized and clean, the indoor soccer pitch and climbing wall awaiting excited children from all over the region.


Originally an abandoned textile factory, the building has been fortified with more than 350 tons of steel and provides a safe place for children to play and grow during times when outdoor options are limited.

The funds Winger has donated will go in part to making sure the remarkable center remains open and in tiptop condition, meeting the highest standards for security as set out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“When people heard that there’s a place in the world where kids can’t go outside and just be kids, well that was something we could all relate too and get behind,” remarks Ethan’s father.


The best part according to the Bar Mitzvah boy is that his project hasn’t really ended. “One of the guys in our group hasn’t had his Bar Mitzvah yet so our web link is still running, and donations can keep coming in!”

When asked what he’d done so far in Israel having only been here a few days, Winger said that he had visited Masada, Jerusalem, and rode countless miles in the group’s mini bus. “It’s pretty different from home and so compact. We’ve seen a lot of history.”


“But don’t forget,” chimed in Feldman, “you’re creating a future here for the people too, that’s amazing bud.”


The link for donations is still up and active if you’d like to get involved.


Story by Tamara Raynor-Cote

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