Teen proves power of pennies

A million and a half million pennies laid end to end stretch nearly 12 miles and weigh 4.7 tons — easily more than a Hummer H2.

Emily Dubois didn’t know that, but the Palo Alto High School senior knew that 1.5 million was the number of Jewish children slaughtered in the Holocaust. And she also knew that 1.5 million pennies are worth $15,000, and that is why she set out last year to collect 1.5 million cents to aid Israeli terror victims.

Late last month the 18-year-old reached her fund-raising goal after a little less than nine months, finishing with a Hollywood-like sense of style.

Moved by Dubois’ “wonderful story,” Gary Rosenthal, an internationally famous Judaica artist, “bought” 1,000 pennies from Dubois (which is pronounced do-BOYS) for a buck apiece, upping her fund-raising grand total to $15,000.78.

The Maryland-based Rosenthal plans to melt his stack of pennies and use the metal to decorate an eternal light, which he hopes to donate to a burgeoning Jewish community in Eastern Europe. As part of his Hiddur-Mitzvah Project, Rosenthal will also donate a Torah and institute Torah study classes.

“What I like to do is get people involved. So, what I’m going to do is donate a Torah to some community in Eastern Europe. I got a list of where Emily’s family came from. And it’d be wonderful to send it to one” of those communities, said Rosenthal, an artist for the past 30 years who got his start as a D.C.-area welder assisting his father, a stove repairman.

Dubois, who kicked off her fund-raising drive at Conservative Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto in September, has already donated more than $11,000 directly to families identified by the charitable agency ZIV Mitzvah.

Donations have ranged from $500 for individuals to $1,800 to a family of nine in which the father was incapacitated by a terrorist shooting.

“Chana,” the grateful recipient of the $1,800 donation, wrote a personal thank-you note to Dubois.

“How I appreciate you! I had thrown up my hands in despair …The family life was about to fall apart. I almost lost all hope (G-d is merciful) because of my difficult situation and now you saved my family. Now my landlord won’t throw me out of the house. We would have been thrown into the streets. I haven’t been able to pay rent for 6 months,” reads the letter, originally penned in Hebrew.

While Dubois will be heading off to college on the East Coast this fall, the penny drive will continue. When Dubois is finished with finals, she will officially sign the documents making her charity a United Synagogue Youth-recognized tzedakah organization.

In fact, a 13-year-old Ohio girl named Ellyanna Kessler, who read about the drive, plans to donate a year’s worth of pennies she collected in her own fund-raising effort plus bat mitzvah money, totaling nearly $2,000. Also, Yavneh Day School in San Jose donated roughly $900, bringing the grand total to more than $18,000.

“I didn’t think [the drive] would be over this fast, I really didn’t,” said Dubois. “I want to thank everyone so much.”

For more information about Dubois’ penny drive, visit http:// Esd2u.pledgepage.org.

To donate to the penny drive, make checks payable to “Kol Emeth — 1.5” and mail to Congregation Kol Emeth, 4175 Manuela Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306. Information: (650) 948-7498. To contribute to Rosenthal’s Hiddur-Mitzvah Project, send checks to 4210 Howard Ave., Kensington, MD 20895. Information: (301) 493-5577.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.