Bat mitzvah hopes to comfort Israeli kids with teddy bears

Some 100 teddy bears went to Israel this month, courtesy of a Mill Valley eighth-grader who knows firsthand they can bring comfort to children anywhere.

Danielle Bogaards was 8 years old when, on an out-of-state visit with her sister, she had a bicycle accident. She needed several stitches in her chin.

A hospital volunteer gave her a teddy bear, "a crocheted one that isn't terribly attractive," according to her mother, Debra Bogaards. "This teddy bear had great significance for her in terms of security."

Her daughter still has it five years later. "It gave me a lot of comfort while I was in the hospital," said Danielle.

So in thinking about a tzedakah project to do in conjunction with her bat mitzvah last year, Danielle decided Israeli children could surely benefit from teddy bears — just as she did.

Her mother helped her come up with the idea. "Because of her attachment and her injury, it made sense for her to help other children," said Debra.

They chose Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, which is known for its trauma center, as the recipient.

"There were a lot of suicide bombs happening at the time," said Debra. "And part of this came from my talking to her as a parent, trying to make these events real."

Initially, they decided that the bears should go to children wounded in terrorist attacks. But then Danielle broadened the scope to include children visiting parents or other relatives injured by terrorism. Then, she finally decided the bears could go to any child who needs one.

Danielle became a bat mitzvah almost a year ago, on May 25 at San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El. Around that time, she began going door to door, collecting money to buy teddy bears.

"That progressed into my mom telling her friends and my telling my friends," she said. Two of her friends bought bears to contribute, and the numbers kept on growing.

Debra asked colleagues at her law firm of Pave & Bogaards and other law firms to donate to the cause.

After a recent article in the Marin Independent Journal mentioned that Avi Pirinjian, the Israeli-born owner of Tony's Shoe and Luggage Repair in Mill Valley, would be taking the bears to Israel, more were dropped off at the store.

While many b'nai mitzvah do a mitzvah project of their choosing, few are as ambitious as Danielle.

Explaining that Emanu-El's b'nai mitzvah commit to fulfilling 18 mitzvot over the next few years, Rabbi Sydney Mintz, the Emanu-El rabbi who worked with Danielle, said "This was an amazing connection to becoming a Jewish adult, comforting people and connecting to Israel. She fulfilled all of these mitzvot at once."

"What a wonderful thing that she took such great initiative in making this mitzvah a possibility for needy children in Israel," Mintz concluded.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."