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B’nai Mitzvah twins raise money for Kliptown kids

  • Kliptown3
When Jack and Emma Yurich were preparing for their Barmitzvah and Batmitzvah in the United States, they weren’t thinking about the oodles of boodle they might get as gifts, but about the children of Kliptown, Soweto, they could help.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Jul 11, 2019

This week, they arrived in South Africa, and sought out Future Angels Day Care Centre, a colourful refuge breaking the grey cacophony of shacks that crowd Kliptown’s sand streets.

The centre became brighter still when the Yurich twins came to donate the goods bought with money raised through their B’Nai Mitzvah (Barmitzvah and Batmitzvah) project, which they termed “Karing for Kliptown”.

Welcomed by the singing voices of smiling children, parents and teachers, the twins finally got the chance to interact with the community they have been working so hard to assist.

Jack and Emma first heard about Kliptown when their South African-born mother, Joanne Yurich, visited the township three years ago on a trip back to South Africa. Joanne and her mother, Robyn Menter were struck by the plight of the largely forgotten Kliptown community – which lacks basic infrastructure and sanitation.

“It was the first time I’d been to Kliptown. We’d never been to Soweto, even though we’d grown up in Johannesburg,” recalls Joanne. “Ilan Ossendryver – a private Soweto guide and photojournalist – brought us to Kliptown, where the Freedom Charter was signed, and we were just so moved by the community. We wished that we’d known about their loss of hope, and that we could have brought more to help them.

“When we came back to the United States, we showed my kids all the pictures we’d taken. What really reached home for us was a picture of a little boy with a toy that he’d made from a milk carton. We showed the kids that these children don’t have toys, they entertain themselves through music or a few soccer balls which are like gold to them.”

Temple Emanu-El, the twin’s synagogue in Dallas, encourages all those approaching Barmitzvah and Batmitzvah to do a mitzvah project. “When the twins began talking about their mitzvah project, my husband Joe and I said we really want you to do something that’s impactful,” recalls Joanne. The twins had been so touched by what they saw and heard of Kliptown that they decided to dedicate their project to the community. “That’s how they came up with the idea to raise money for shoes and soccer balls for the kids, something that was necessary but fun too.”

“We wanted to do something that was important to us,” said Emma, “and since my mom is born here, it made sense to do this – it’s something that’s part of our roots. We spent a year raising money, and raised just more than $27 000 [about R383 000].” While the twins set up a website and began raising money through fundraisers like bake sales, a selfless decision took the project to the next level.

“When we were about to do their invitations, they said, ‘We have everything we need, let’s ask people to donate money to the community instead of giving us gifts’,” said Joanne. “That was how they were able to raise enough to be able to give more than just shoes and soccer balls.” The twins ultimately donated AstroTurf for the playground, toys, a huge selection of dress-up clothes, 14 tricycles, clothing, and three pairs of good quality tennis shoes for each of the 40 delighted kids and seven teachers, as well as 175 soccer balls distributed throughout the community.

After a year of fundraising, the twins, together with their parents, three younger siblings, grandmother, and two family friends, finally visited the community they’d heard so much about. They went to deliver the goods personally. “We’ve never even been to South Africa,” said Emma at the centre, surrounded by the grateful children. “Being here is awesome, they’re so sweet. We’d only seen pictures, it’s a lot different to what I expected. The conditions are worse than I imagined. Meeting them is so sad, but being able to give them these things and play with them makes it a lot happier. Giving back has always been important to our family, but this has been the biggest thing that we’ve done so far.”

“It’s amazing to be here because all of the work that we’ve done, it just really pays off,” said Jack. “It’s heart-breaking how the government has neglected this community.” The family aim to keep the project going when the twins’ three younger siblings have their Batmitzvah and Barmitzvahs.

Dolly Ntshangase, the founder of the day-care centre, said the school had started in 2013 with 14 kids. Today, it caters for 40 small children under six, and while they get a social grant from the department, it’s not enough to give the teachers a stipend and cater for the needs of the children, who are also fed two full meals and two snacks daily. The school ultimately survives through donations.

“This project is fantastic,” said Ntshangase. “Maybe this family were sent from above. We didn’t expect this. Just getting three pairs of shoes and a tracksuit for each child is so wonderful. We think Joanne and her family will be blessed from above.”

Ossendryver, who is thrilled by the initiative, is also dedicated to the centre and the wider community. He personally assists, and frequently organises fundraising initiatives, and brings tourists to Kliptown. “I’m one of the few white people who come here,” he said.

To give thanks, the community treated the family to a song by talented singer and guitarist Cleopas Ways, and to a special performance by the Kliptown Gumboot Dancers.

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