Hailey Gross spreads the word
Photo: Courtesy Gross family
“Our tradition must include telling our children and their children and others about what happened,” said Hailey Gross, forefront, shown with her brother Ethan, her “Gaga” Gail Mabel and family friend Naomi Sanit.

Mitzvah project to collect, share Holocaust books

By Deb Silverthorn

Hailey Gross is preparing to become a bat mitzvah by spreading the word — lots of words — about the history of her people: She is collecting and sharing books about the Holocaust. By providing them to community members of all religions, she wants to be sure there’s no question in anyone’s mind that the Shoah happened.

She says it is the only way “‘never again’ can mean anything.”

Hailey turned 12 in March and will celebrate her bat mitzvah in June at Congregation Anshai Torah. The daughter of Amy and Brad Gross and sister of Ethan, Hailey is assuming her responsibilities as an adult in the Jewish community with a long-term and lifelong intent — not a “project” required for her simcha.

Photo: Courtesy Gross family
Hailey Gross has provided treats as giveaways. She is pictured with her brother, Ethan.

“I’ve learned from my family to hold on to faith and what I believe in, always, but I also think I have to actively make a difference for others to believe in faith too,” said Hailey.

 “So much of being Jewish is tradition like baking and cooking family recipes for Shabbat or holidays or going to religious school to learn our history,” she added. “Sadly, the Holocaust happened and so many who survived it have now passed away. I believe our tradition also must include telling our children and their children and others around us about what happened.”

“Books are being banned in schools and libraries and Hailey wants to get the truth into the hands of as many people as she can,” said her father. “She wants people to read, learn and pass the books on.”

The introduction of the book “Upstander,” by Jori Epstein and the late Max Glauben, through Gross family neighbors Delaney and Justin Katz, motivated Hailey. Glauben was Delaney’s grandfather.

“This is exactly the ‘Upstander’ act that Zaide lived for. His life was about touching people with the truth of the Holocaust and he did that around the world,” said Delaney. Max’s imprint will be perpetuated forever through his book, his stories and his inclusion in the “Dimensions in Testimony” at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.

Photo: Deb Silverthorn
“I hope every one of the books will have dozens of signatures, hundreds,” said Hailey Gross.

“Our family commends Hailey,” said Delaney. “To be so young and passionate is inspiring.”

Gross is a sixth grade student at Renner Middle School. She plays the string bass in the school’s orchestra. Since she was a toddler, she has danced and performed ballet and en pointe, jazz and hip hop.

Performing mitzvahs is not new to Hailey. With her family she’s given out treat bags to homeless people; raised money for Operation Kindness with a lemonade stand when she was 4; and participated in many challah bakes.

“Life is about paying it forward and living the ‘do unto others’ idea,” said her mother. “We want our children to be good citizens, to care about others and to find ways and causes that matter to them so they will always want to do mitzvahs, never feel like they have to.”

Giving comes naturally to Hailey. In addition to her parents, she says she’s seen her grandparents, Jackie and the late Donald Gross and Gail and Bob Mabel, act to care for others, not just talk about it.

“It’s hard to imagine there are people who have no concept of history 70-plus years ago and just five months ago. We have to remind the world of who we are and what happened,” said Jackie, who started reading to Hailey when she was an infant in her care. “I love that Hailey feels this is a responsibility of hers. She’s doing a great job.”

Gail Mabel, who spent more than 30 years as an educator in the preschool at Akiba Yavneh Academy, said, “I love the idea of Hailey sharing and impacting people she knows and undoubtedly so many she’ll never meet.

Photo: Courtesy Gross family
Hailey Gross shares storytime with her brother, Ethan.

“Some mitzvahs, you aren’t ever sure of the impact but this time she’s nailed it,” said Gail. “We’ve all spent time reading with her since she was little. The respect she has for books and what they can mean is precious. We are proud of her.”

Hailey is posting a note inside each book’s cover with her signature and a request for the reader to finish the book, sign it and share it with someone else.

“We are getting books but need many more as well as donations of money so I can order books,” said Hailey. “I hope every one of the books will have dozens of signatures, hundreds. I want them all to go as far as they can to teach people what happened. I don’t want it to happen again.”

Within Hailey’s Torah portion of Naso is the first utterance of the priestly blessing over the children of Israel: “May God bless you and watch over you. May God cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May God raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”

As she moves into Jewish adulthood, Hailey Gross takes that responsibility to heart.

To help purchase books for Hailey’s project, visit tinyurl.com/Haileys-Mitzvah. To donate new or gently used books or to arrange for Hailey to address a book club or group, email haileygross2012@gmail.com.

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