A Tale of Boy Becomes Mensch

Those of you who are keen followers of JVN’s Twitter feed or fans of our Facebook page may have noticed that the volunteering efforts of certain JVN favourite have been popping up from time to time. We even mentioned him briefly in our blog about last year’s Jewish Living Expo, way back in the spring of last year.

It all started when a little boy came to visit us one evening in February 2012, along with his mother. But what did he want, this young upstart, with his well-groomed quiff and oversized JFS blazer? “I want to volunteer!” he said. But why did he come all the way to our offices just to tell us that? If this was a normal case, a simple phone call would have been the best way for a young person to get started in the volunteering world. But this was not a normal case, and he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill everyday Jewish 11-year-old.

Ethan at his first challenge at the World Jewish Relief warehouse

Ethan at his first challenge at the World Jewish Relief warehouse

This was Ethan Jacobs. Ethan decided, after talking it through with his mum Angie and dad Tony, that he wanted to complete 13 different volunteering challenges with 13 different charities in time for his Bar Mitzvah. Not only was he demonstrating extraordinary commitment and kind-heartedness, but he was also following in the footsteps of his big sister Ilana, who had undertaken a similar task for her Bat Mitzvah. After celebrating his coming of age last month having successfully completed all 13 “missions”, we caught up with the young man (as he now is) to talk to him about what had become known as “Ethan’s Challenge.”

“I was coming up to my Bar Mitzvah and I wanted to do something for charity,” said Ethan when we asked him about the reasons for his Challenge. “My sister inspired me as she produced a cook book for charity for her Bat Mitzvah.” And it’s obviously a family thing – Ethan confessed, “It wasn’t entirely my decision as my mum said I had to do something!”

His final challenge was fundraising for Harrow Mencap

His final challenge was fundraising for Harrow Mencap

Despite Angie working at Jewish Care, Ethan felt he had learned a surprising amount about Jewish charities, particularly “how many and how varied” they were. “A lot of the people I helped were amazing and had gone through so much.”

So why did Ethan choose volunteering as his good deeds of choice? After all, there are so many forms that gemillut chassadim – acts of loving-kindness – can take. “I think I’m quite personable and friendly,” said Ethan. His family and friends often agree that this makes it easy for him to interact with people from all walks of life, as they would be from 13 completely different charities. Angie tells us exactly the same in the JVN movie. “I think I did the best job at the Langdon Brady Club,” Ethan tells us. The Brady Club is an after-school club for young people with learning disabilities. “I helped to make posters for Gefiltefest. The members were of a similar age to me, so I found it easy to connect with them.”

Blue Peter were so impressed by Ethan's volunteering efforts that they sent him one of their famous badges!

Blue Peter were so impressed by Ethan’s volunteering efforts that they sent him one of their famous badges!

Ethan has received much praise for his volunteering – he was featured in the Jewish News in May 2013 and May 2012, and received an impromptu special prize from the Chief Rabbi at a Belmont Shul event in April 2013, after he was told about Ethan’s Challenge. But despite his raised profile, Ethan has remained firmly grounded with a philosophical approach to volunteering, true to the values that JVN also holds. “Volunteering should be something that you want to do and not for recognition,” he maintains. “The recognition should be a bonus.” And he doesn’t believe it’s a big ask to get involved in regular volunteering, even for young people like himself. When young people volunteer, “they get into a routine” and find it easier to commit. He perceptively adds that starting young also “gets them prepared for when they are older and can do more challenging tasks.”

So, having completed his 13 “missions”, does Ethan feel it has all been worthwhile? “Yes,” he responded, “I feel I

have done what I set out to do.” And he also believes he may have inspired others to volunteer. He took some of his friends and family along to some of his volunteering, which he says they largely enjoyed. Of his Challenge, Ethan hopes that people view it “as a good thing” and that they will be “encouraged to do some volunteering themselves.”

... and again for Camp Simcha on Purim

Volunteering with big sister Ilana for GIFT on Mitzvah Day…

But the journey doesn’t end here for Ethan. Not one for abandoning his

... and again at Camp Simcha on Purim

… and again at Camp Simcha on Purim

beliefs, he feels that his Challenge was merely a warm-up for more volunteering in later life. He intends to go on to volunteer with Emunah – and, seeing as how he has finished all the thank-you cards for his Bar Mitzvah presents, his parents are also on board! One thing we can say is that we have seen the transformation in a young man’s life that comes through volunteering. Ethan has really progressed and taken to all his volunteering “missions” with gusto, enthusiasm and a genuine desire to make an improvement to people’s lives. He is a credit to himself, his family and other young people. It really has been a tale of boy becomes man – and boy becomes mensch!

Ethan did not expect to receive a pat on the back and a siddur with a personal message from the Chief Rabbi

Ethan did not expect to receive a pat on the back and a siddur with a personal message from the Chief Rabbi

Ethan’s Challenge has its own website where you can read all about his “missions” and the charities he supported. You can also sponsor Ethan for his great work by visiting his JustGiving page and making a donation to his chosen charity, Tikvah Children’s Home in Ukraine, a rescue and aid organisation for the at-risk Jewish children and impoverished families of Odessa. He’s raised £850 so far – a tremendous achievement – but every penny really does help.

And of course, if you have been inspired by Ethan to volunteer, it’s never too early or too late to do so! Follow in Ethan’s footsteps and register as a volunteer or log into the JVN website and do something great today! And for more incredible stories of amazing volunteering, don’t forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter as well.

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Categories: Volunteering, Volunteering Perspectives, Volunteering Profiles

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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