By Deb Silverthorn
Mix one cup of heart, two cups of tzedakah, four tablespoons of family values and simmer for 12 years and you are certain to end up with a bat mitzvah like Orly Cohen’s.
Mitzvah-minded, shalom-spirited, and community-conscious, earlier this week Orly delivered 10 dozen gourmet cookies, which she baked, to the Aishel House in Houston.
“My friend Maya introduced me to YouTube baking videos and I got inspired to tape my own show,” said Orly, who will celebrate her bat mitzvah during a Rosh Chodesh morning service Aug. 16. “Someday Maya and I want to have a bakery and I know it can happen. For now, I might be ‘just’ a kid but I started Orly’s Just Desserts.”
The daughter of Mara and Jacob Cohen, and sister of Avi, Orly has been raised deeper in the Dallas Jewish community than a seven-layer cake. Her grandparents, Rosie and Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen and Janet and Stanley Siegel, are well-known and beloved through their history at Congregation Tiferet Israel, Nishmat Am, and the Bikur Cholim Society.
Combining her love, and her grandparents’ examples of great works in the kitchen, visiting those who are ill, and serving the community, Orly found the perfect mitzvah project in her donation to Aishel House. During a planning meeting with Simcha Kosher Catering’s Lowell Michelson, about her own celebration, the idea became reality. With Michelson donating his kitchen, supplies, and the time and expertise of Abe Preizler, his chief baker, Orly couldn’t help but bake a bunch of mitzvah magic.
“Orly is talented and very interested in learning. She picks it up quickly and she’s a great kid overall,” said Preizler, who is well-known in Dallas as the former owner of Preizler’s Bakery and Deli. His relationship with the Cohens goes back more than 35 years, and includes his catering Jacob Cohen’s bar mitzvah a generation ago. He has known and adored Orly since she was born.
“I identify with Orly starting young,” said Preizler. “At 14, my father told me to get a job. I wanted to be a mechanic or a plumber or welder but he said, give baking a try. ‘If it doesn’t work,’ he said, ‘you can always change your path.’ Well? I’m still ‘trying’ it! I had good teachers and great customers through the years. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll do well and I believe Orly will do just fine.”
“Orly and those she has worked with, who have taken the time and energy to brighten the day of people they most probably will never meet, are giving without expecting to receive anything,” said Rochel Lazaroff, the volunteer coordinator at Aishel House. “The root word of mitzvah is connection and by doing the mitzvah one connects with the source of infinite light, the Almighty God. What a beautiful way for a young woman to inaugurate her entrance to Jewish womanhood, her personal relationship with God, by doing one of His mitzvot.”
Noting that Aishel House hosts accommodations for housing about a dozen people with visits and meals for close to 30 people each day, Mrs. Lazaroff said, “Orly has done not just any mitzvah, but one which shows kindness and caring. I’m inspired because I see a generation of beautiful people blossoming.”
A generation blossoming — with roses, or her Safti Rosie Cohen, to be specific. Founder and director of the Ohr Hadash Jewish Healing Center and the Bikur Cholim Society/Jewish Hospice Council of the Southwest, Cohen leads volunteers in helping those without health insurance, matching patients and doctors, providing financial assistance for prescriptions, food, clothing, and assistance with legal documents, and more.
“Orly understands, she has come with me — when it’s appropriate — to visit patients and she sees what they and their families are going through,” Cohen said. “I’m overly proud of the choice to demonstrate, through her mitzvah project, her maturity and respect for the values she has learned from her parents and grandparents. That she is choosing to give of herself unconditionally, and do for others at the Aishel House, is a gift to us all.”
The Aishel House, in its 11th year and under construction to enlarge the facility, is currently hosting families from Chicago, New Jersey, Panama, Israel, and other areas, with over 150 volunteers as young as 9 years old alongside their parents, making deliveries, cooking and helping in the Aishel House kitchen.
Families of patients being cared for in the many medical facilities nearby have a comfortable place to stay, they are provided with delicious hot kosher meals daily, and many other needs are taken care of, all at no charge. A team of dedicated volunteers shuttles patients and their families to and from airports, medical appointments, shopping — anything to reduce their burden.
Watching out for others
For Orly’s family, caring for others and creating a cake-topper-style opportunity to help others was not a surprise.
“Orly has always been one to watch out for others and it’s great that she can share what she loves, in a unique way to make others feel good,” said her mother, Mara. “This whole experience has been incredible — from idea to delivery — and in giving to Aishel House, it has been a lesson and a gift to our family.”
“I marvel at Orly’s baking skills, and how she has used them for her mitzvah project as well as providing us with delicious desserts,” said her Bubbie Janet Siegel. “I’m thrilled to be able to participate in Orly’s bat mitzvah by helping create the concept and design of the centerpieces, highlighting her passion for baking.”
“It’s truly one of life’s great pleasures to watch a grandchild grow, develop, mature and become a compassionate and caring young adult,” said her Zaide Stanley Siegel. “I’ve cherished the opportunity to see Orly grow in wisdom and in skills, having the chance to teach her to swim and ride a bike, and we delight in hearing Orly’s excitement in relating her Torah studies and stories (especially those from Chelm).”
When Orly stands before her friends and family, sharing her learning of Parashat Pinchas, her tutor is likely to be “slightly” more proud than most. Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen has directed hundreds if not thousands in his career as cantor and rabbi, and working with Orly — well, there are “almost” no words to describe the emotion.
“To work with a grandchild is the personification of the word nachas,” said Rabbi Cohen, for whom Orly baked a Torah-shaped and decorated cake. “I’m so proud of her menshlichkeit. Kishmah ken hee, ‘just like her name, so is she’ and Orly is exactly like her name — ‘my light’ — need I say more?”
“My bat mitzvah is on Rosh Chodesh, which signifies a new month and a new beginning,” said Orly.
“When I bake, people are happy, and I want there to be a yummy feeling in the bellies of the people at Aishel House. As I become an adult in my community, a new time in my life, baking for others to feel better made sense.”