Noa Mintz (center)

Leave your seatbelt off so you can run for shelter if the rockets start to fall. That’s what the cab driver told Noa Mintz, and her mother, Meredith Berkman, when they visited Sderot in late June.

And it was far from an idle warning; Berkman had heard that over 100 rockets had fallen on the small Israeli town near the Gaza border in the preceding week. So what brought two New York Jews so far from home, and to such a dangerous place? It was Noa’s bat mitzvah project, being done as part of UJA-Federation of New York’s Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah program.

Noa had visited Sderot for the first time with her mother at the age of 9, and later when the time came to choose her bat mitzvah project, she remembered that visit and the threat that hung over Sderot. In the lead up to her bat mitzvah, she decided to combine her passion for knitting with her desire to give back. Noa conceived of having 10 girls in New York and 10 in Sderot learn and practice knitting together and getting to know each other via video chat. In June, she and her mother visited the community center in Sderot to finally meet the Israeli girls face-to-face.

“They don’t get a lot of alone time; sometimes they have to watch their younger siblings,” Noa explained. “It means a lot for them to have some place to go [and relax] once a week.”

Though her bat mitzvah is still over half a year away, Noa has already been developing the project for more than a year. And she plans to use the remaining time to raise funds, above and beyond contributing a large portion of her bat mitzvah money; she would like to expand the program to include more kids as well as therapeutic knitting for the adults of Sderot.

“I feel like to be a Jewish adult, you have to give your part to the community, whether it’s giving or raising money or volunteering,” Noa adds. It’s also been rewarding for Noa’s mother to watch her daughter bring the idea to fruition. “I think going to Sderot and meeting with the girls really crystallized for my daughter what she had hoped the project would be,” Berkman says.

“My daughter doesn’t speak much Hebrew and they didn’t speak much English, but the knitting was the language.” When she first learned how active the rocket fire was just before the dates of their visit, Berkman had some reservations about bringing Noa back to Sderot, but her daughter persuaded her otherwise.

Noa felt that part of the purpose of the project was to help the girls feel that they weren’t alone. If she didn’t make the trip, it would undermine that purpose. After the hugs, and the smiles, and promises of future emails and video chats had been exchanged, both Noa and her mother were struck by one thing. “Despite the fact that the rockets had been falling in the days before our visit, not one word was said about it the entire time,” Berkman says.

“In some ways that was both the most uplifting and the most haunting thing of all.”

Learn more about our Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah program and other mitzvah project opportunities.

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