Mitzvah Hero: Eli Minkoff, a 13-year-old from Elkins Park with Asperger's Syndrome, turned his recent Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Adath Jeshurun into an opportunity to spread his concern for animal rights and the environment. As his mother noted with pride, Eli not only took a stand for the causes he believed in, but also worked with family and synagogue leaders to lead the ceremony despite his aversion to crowds, a common trait among those with Asperger's, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum.
What It’s All About: A seventh-grader at the Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill, Eli has been a vegetarian since elementary school.
“It was about third grade that I began to do this,” says the son of Carra and Scott Minkoff.
He doesn't like to think of animals as a food source, he explains, because "I believe in a God and I thought this could not be what God would want. I believe every animal has a soul."
He's not the only vegetarian in his family: His mother, he says proudly, chose his 11th birthday celebration to give up meat. Indeed, she and her husband worked with their son — they also have a daughter, Sydra, 9 — to adapt the Bar Mitzvah rite of passage to Eli’s beliefs and serve as a teaching tool for those attending. They worked closely with Cantor Howard Glantz, whose extraordinary help they readily acknowledge.
The Minkoff basement became, says Carra, “a workshop with plaster of Paris and cloth remnants,” as they made sustainable centerpieces for the Bar Mitzvah party, which were given post-event to the synagogue’s catering department for future use. They also referenced phillycompost.com, which led them to compostable service items.
“Eli,” adds his mother, “finds it abhorrent to wear leather — so that created challenges for donning tefillin.” To that end, she worked with the synagogue’s religious leader, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, to seek out what she calls “vegetarian tefillin,” which they found offered by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.
Not a One-Time Thing: Being a proponent of vegetarianism and animal rights does not preclude Eli’s humanitarian activism as well. He refused to wear a kipah that was not manufactured under humane factory conditions — which meant the one he donned for his Bar Mitzvah was guaranteed by its Chinese manufacturer to have been made under fair workplace conditions. His mother recalls how they once walked out of a convenience store after Eli determined “that their policies toward LGBT rights were lacking.”
Good for Him: Eli’s activism has certainly impacted others in his life. Even his doctor, says his mother, has now adopted nonleather shoes. He still has some differing viewpoints to conquer on the home team: His father is not a veggie — yet. “But very likely that will change,” says his dad.