For Bar Mitzvah Project, Literature-Loving Student Collects 500 Books for Children in Need

Aviv Englehart (left) carries boxes of donated books into Westport Academy. (Mark Bridge)

Aviv Englehart, a seventh-grade student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, loves to read. So providing other children with books seemed like a natural fit for his bar mitzvah project. Over the course of several months, he collected 500 books for The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and Associated Black Charities’ joint book drive, which aimed to donate books to schools in lower-income areas.

These efforts culminated in an Associated and ABC-sponsored event, where he presented all the books he had accumulated and an additional 200 books collected by The Associated to Westport Academy, a Pre-K through eighth grade school in South Baltimore. He was joined by City Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who presented him with a City Council proclamation for his work.

The book drive was first started after a collaborative event by The Associated and ABC, and was originally started to benefit the Cherry Hill Elementary and Middle School Library. The event found that the library lacked age-appropriate books for students and was severely under-resourced. Community members were encouraged to donate manga and graphic novels, books by Black authors and focusing on Black culture, and banned books for children in a third-eighth grade audience.

The drive initially resulted in over 500 books being donated to the Cherry Hill Elementary and Middle School Library. It proved so successful that it was expanded to other schools in the area, including Westport Academy.

Aviv’s mother, Liz Englehart, first heard about the book drive when it launched. As her son was looking for a charitable cause to support for his upcoming bar mitzvah project at the time, she suggested it to him.

“I love books, so I talked to a librarian and they said I should do a book donation. So we partnered with The Associated and collected a lot of books to donate,” Aviv said.

In addition to taking used book donations from friends and other community members, Aviv Englehart and his parents, who belong to Pikesville Jewish Congregation, compiled an Amazon wish list of popular titles and book series that he enjoys. These included the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books and Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Secret Series.

The Englehart family, clockwise from top left: Donni Englehart, Liz Englehart, Aviv Englehart and Elon Englehart (Mark Bridge)

Aviv put up fliers advertising the book drive around his school and his local community and directly reached out to people to ask if they had any used or new books to donate.

“The most rewarding part was seeing all the smiles [from kids at Westport Academy],” he said. “But it was also nice that when I had all the books lying around my house to be donated, I could read them myself before we gave them away.”

At the Westport Academy event, Aviv helped pass out the books he had collected to students at the school. He noted how many of the children at the school thanked him, with several taking books home.

Aviv’s parents, Donni and Liz Englehart, hope that he will continue participating in book drives after his bar mitzvah. The family currently has plans to meet with the City Council to help organize a future Create Your Own Home Library event, where kids and families from low-income areas can pick out donated books in order to start their own libraries at home.

“We’re really proud,” Donni Englehart said. “Aviv has always been a great reader, he’s always been super interested in reading and he wanted to share his passion. I think that as parents, it was a high priority for him in becoming a bar mitzvah for him to internalize that he can make a difference if he chooses to, and that being a Jewish adult is doing good for yourself, other people and your community.”

When asked if he had any advice for children looking for ideas for their own b’nai mitzvah projects, Aviv said they should think of something they enjoy and how they can give that enjoyment to people in need.

“Definitely choose something you know you can do, and that you love. And you should work hard at it until you’re done,” he said. “It will be successful if you tell people about it and spread the news, saying that it’s for chesed. When people hear that something will help other people, they will want to help, too.”

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