Tucson Hebrew Academy students consistently learn how Jewish values help them make a difference in the world, and at the 8th annual Passport to Peace day on Jan. 28, everyone participated. THA students spent the afternoon visiting booths in the school courtyard to learn about a variety of service organizations.
Every year, fifth- to eighth-grade student government members select both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations that work to raise awareness for youth, animals, veterans and others needing help. The booths represent nonprofits from Tucson and around the world.
“Kids really love the idea of actually giving back to these organizations,” says David Stropka, student government advisor and math teacher. The fair-like atmosphere on the THA campus encourages students to visit the booths of such organizations as the Leket Israel food banks, or, from Tucson, the Handmaker Foundation, Literacy Connects, Beads of Courage, Hermitage Cat Shelter, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and more.
Chris Graves, currently the fourth-grade secular studies teacher, started Passport to Peace with her middle school students in 2008 when she was student government advisor. “I had students who really wanted to do something for Darfur, maybe hold a concert with a Jewish rock band and send the proceeds to help” stop the Sudanese government’s brutality, says Graves. “It got difficult to organize. We decided to plan a day to teach the rest of the kids how to make a difference in the world.”
Organizations may change every year, she adds, “but kids can keep track of them if they keep their passports.” At each booth they visit students receive a stamp in their sample passports. Parents donate mitzvah tokens for their children to contribute to the organizations of their choice. Even kindergartners participate, as they visit booths with their seventh-grade buddies.
Meanwhile in the THA auditorium, Judaics studies lower-school teacher Emily Ellentuck spoke to students about Beads of Courage. When her baby, Naomi, spent three weeks at University Medical Center following her birth, the family received a bead after each of Naomi’s accomplishments or when a procedure was successful. Ellentuck also helped younger students prepare packets of beads for people needing an act of kindness.
“Ever since fifth grade I’ve been involved” in the Passport to Peace mitzvah day, says Maia Winsberg, now an eighth-grader and a student government leader. Outside of school, “I’ve helped homeless people, worked at the Tucson Community Food Bank. For my bat mitzvah project I pulled up alongside people walking along the road and gave them water, sunscreen and granola bars. I want to volunteer when I go to Tucson High” Magnet School.
Rebecca Dubin, another eighth-grade student government member, has volunteered with Pets for Vets. “For about six months I made dog toys and gave the money to them,” says Dubin, who will attend University High School next year. “We’re learning how to help people who are less fortunate.”
Even a first-grader chimed in about taking part in the mitzvot, saying, “Some of the army people have dizzy heads so they need animals to help them,” a reference to Pets for Vets, one of the featured nonprofit organizations.
As part of the Passport to Peace program, all THA students shaped and glazed two ceramic tiles this year in art classes with teacher Amy Pozez. One set of the 140 tiles they made were added that day to the peace wall in the school’s courtyard. When THA’s eighth-graders travel to Israel in May on their annual class trip, they’ll be carrying the other 140 tiles to be added to the Netiv L’Shalom (Path to Peace) mosaic wall at the border between Netiv HaAsara, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. That wall was created by Israeli artist Tzamaret Zamir.
“Even though we don’t get along with Gaza, we’re still all families,” says Pozez. “We’re all humans. We all wish for peace.”