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They're Pulling Out All the Stops for Haitians

January 28, 2010 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Feature
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Madelyn Simon worked hard doing chores at home as part of a tzedakah project to raise funds for Haiti.

Fourth-grader Madelyn Simon added a bit of splash to her school wardrobe last week: a baseball cap with a sequined flower on it.

Normally, that's not allowed at the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School's Stern Center, but last Friday was an exception. As part of the school's "Hats for Haiti" relief drive, students who brought in a donation of $1 or more could wear the cap of their choosing.

The effort netted $1,200 for the American Jewish World Service's Haiti relief fund, but Simon didn't stop there.

As part of a tzedakah project, the 9-year-old and her schoolmates went about doing tasks at home, with their parents giving them money for the work. That cash was also donated to AJWS.

Initiatives like these are just a few ways the Philadelphia Jewish community has pitched in with the relief effort for the beleaguered island nation.

"Clearly, this is something that resonates; people are people," stated Perelman head of school Jay Leberman, who added that Perelman's two elementary schools and middle school had done similar fundraising projects after the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Perelman's Robert Saligman Middle School will hold an auction next month, with students bidding on prizes such as a box of Tastykakes, the opportunity to serve as principal for one class period and the chance to take the school turtle for a walk.

The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy is also helping out, scheduling a tzedakah day for Haiti on Monday, Feb. 8, to include a jump-rope-a-thon.

Offering Temporary Status
Many in the Jewish community are lending support in other ways.

HIAS and Council Migration Service, the Philadelphia branch of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is organizing efforts for the local Haitian community, according to executive director Judi Bernstein-Baker.

HIAS is working with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, members of Philadelphia's Haitian leadership, representatives from the Mayor's Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs, and the immigration departments of many local law firms to plan a Jan. 29 training session for attorneys to help local Haitians apply for Temporary Protected Status.

This will allow petitioners "an opportunity to expedite their situation, or at least their employment situation, so they can send much-needed funds back home," said Bernstein-Baker.

The HIAS project also includes the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which has agreed to a dollar-for-dollar match -- up to $5,000 -- of any contribution the Jewish Community Relations Council puts toward the initiative.

It costs at least $150 to apply for temporary status; HIAS aims to provide the service for $50 or less. Much of the cost will be offset by the JCRC and Federation.

"We believe there is no better way to promote the goal of community relations than to reach out to our local friends in the Haitian community at this time of crisis and help them to access the services that HIAS has so generously offered," JCRC chair Marc Zucker said via e-mail.

Synagogues throughout the region have been urging their congregants to donate to any number of charities helping in the relief effort. Last week during a Martin Luther King Day of Service, Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley brought in more than $1,000 for the relief effort, said Rabbi Eliseo Rozenwasser.

Many synagogue religious schools are also doing tzedakah projects for Haiti. Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington has designated that the entire month of March go toward raising funds for the victims.

And "Hope for Haiti," a community benefit concert, is slated for Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 7:30 p.m., at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.

"I hope we get around 500," said Rabbi Kevin Kleinman of K.I., adding that "we have the capacity to open up the back door of the sanctuary and seat up to 3,000."

The concert is free; donations will be accepted on-site. All proceeds will benefit the American Red Cross. Kleinman said that organizers hope the event will raise between $25,000 and $50,000.

The event will feature singers, a guitarist and Haitian musicians. The synagogue's rabbi, Lance Sussman, will speak, as will Pennsylvania Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-Phila.), State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-Dist. 153) and several Haitians who reside here.

Among them will be Daniel Coachi, an Elkins Park internist who was raised in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, where he lived until he was 15.

"It will take a long time to repair," he said of his homeland. "I think the response has been very, very adequate ... but all the roads are destroyed, and getting supplies to the people is a challenge. But it's getting progressively better " as relief workers "get more acquainted with the island." 

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