By Ellen Bachner Greenberg
Becoming a Bat Mitzvah signifies a girl’s transition from childhood to Jewish adulthood. Preparation for this milestone event includes learning the responsibilities of Jewish religious rituals and commandments, and embracing the importance of doing good deeds. Typically, students experience the Jewish obligation to help others through initiatives known as Mitzvah Projects. While synagogues and agencies often have lists of suggested projects that students can choose from, many students opt, instead, to create their own project.
Twelve year old Arielle Levy instinctively knew that the most meaningful way for her to give back to others was to incorporate her passion for dance into her Mitzvah Project. A student at Armonk Center for Dance since she was three years old, Arielle broached the subject of sharing dance with developmentally disabled children with her mentors there. The Center introduced her to the Steffi Nossen School of Dance, with two studios in White Plains and a program in Chappaqua, and to the Steffi Nossen Dance Foundation which furthers the school’s commitment to serving populations that are underserved or have special needs through various outreach programs. Arielle requested an interview and was subsequently offered the opportunity to serve as a Volunteer last summer at Moving Wheels and Heels, Nossen’s camp-like program for children with special needs.
Each and every day that she volunteered at the Moving Wheels and Heels program, Arielle lived by Steffi Nossen’s philosophy that “anybody can dance and everyone should.” She brought her love of dance to the program and, through her warmth, smiles, and sincerity, enriched the lives of the children she worked with. Her hands-on approach to giving back clearly demonstrates kindness, compassion and a commitment to bringing enjoyment to the lives of those less privileged and/or disadvantaged. “It’s important in our busy lives to stop and be thankful for what we have and realize what others don’t have and to also take responsibility to help those who are not as fortunate,” says Arielle.
Many other twelve years olds might have felt that their Mitzvah project was completed when the summer program ended, but not Arielle Levy. She so loved seeing the joy that dance brought to the children at Moving Wheels and Heels that she wanted to give the gift of dance to other special needs children too. Arielle turned her passion into action and requested that, in lieu of Bat Mitzvah gifts, her guests donate the money they would have spent on a present to the Steffi Nossen Foundation’s Moving Wheels and Heels program. When asked why she did not want gifts, Arielle thoughtfully replied, “The gift I received is knowing that other children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to dance now do.”
Judith G. Ross, Community Relations Director at Steffi Nossen School of Dance, watched Arielle interact with the campers and remarked,
“Arielle’s empathy and sensitivity to people with special needs is way beyond her years. She, in particular, is such a young person to be so comfortable around people with special needs.”
Perhaps this is partly her nature, partly her nurturing family’s values. Arielle’s mother, Julie Levy, explained that being philanthropic and compassionate are values she and her husband, Jerry, have instilled in their family. “Philanthropy is not just about giving money –it is about something that is in your heart. I grew up in a family that was very philanthropic and my husband is very philanthropic–that’s what our children know.”
Arielle’s Bat Mitzvah was held last October and, while the celebration of accepting the responsibilities of becoming a Jewish adult is over, the impact of her philanthropy will continue for a long time. Recognized “for her generosity of spirit and selflessness in giving to the Steffi Nossen Foundation Moving Wheels and Heels adaptive dance program”, Arielle was invited to and honored at the Foundation’s March Benefit.
As a direct result of the donations received on Arielle’s behalf, there will be many more opportunities in Westchester for the underserved and those with disabilities to, as Judith Ross stated, “enjoy the same dance and movement opportunity as their typical peers.” Initiatives include a substantial financial aid package for the Moving Wheels and Heels summer program to anyone in need for the next two years. In addition, four new programs will be offered at no charge throughout Westchester: classes for 64 students at the Cerebral Palsy School of Westchester; a series of classes at Burke Rehabilitation Center for Young Parkinson’s group; a summer dance program for 65 children through the Yonkers Park and Recreation Department; and a newly created Moving Wheels and Heels program in Chappaqua.
Through her commitment, kindness, and generosity, Arielle has illuminated the lives of the less fortunate by giving them the gift of dance. She feels blessed to have received as much as she gave, and is looking forward to volunteering again this summer; Steffi Nossen is delighted to have her back.
Ellen Bachner Greenberg, a lifelong resident of Westchester, is a certified Parenting & Family Life Coach. Ellen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org