By Rachel Gross
At Levine Academy, every class in the lower school is required to do a mitzvah project. This year, the fifth-grade class dedicated their project, called Sasha’s Prayer Chain, to former Levine student and friend Sasha Okhotskiy.
Okhotskiy is a fun-loving 11-year-old who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006. During that time, the third-grade class at Levine Academy made a “Prayer Wall for Sasha.” Each prayer was written on a template that looked like a siddur, and the collection was posted in the halls with a large banner.
After Sasha’s cancer returned in 2008, the fifth-grade class decided to do something similar, this time with chains. Each three-link chain could be purchased for a minimum of $5. Every participant decorated his or her own and then wrote a special prayer for Sasha. All proceeds from the mitzvah project go to the Sasha Okhotskiy fund, assisting with medical expenses and whatever the family needs.
The chains, which are not only wonderful pieces of art but also a great way to honor Okhotskiy, are currently being displayed on the first floor of the school. Each one has its own unique flair and words of hope for Sasha.
Olga Okhotskiy, Sasha’s mom, said she is grateful for the support that they have received from the community during this rough time.
“They are angels. This is the second time they are doing this and the whole school is holding Sasha in their spirit,” she said. “Sasha reads every prayer and it makes him very happy. It’s amazing how everyone at the school has become our family … and all of the support we get is very important.”
Lynn Fellhauer, a Levine parent who helped to spearhead both the Prayer Wall and Prayer Chain, said everyone wanted to help Sasha and they decided this was a great way for the community to reach out to him.
She said that the Prayer Wall made such a positive impact on him the first time, she knew the chains would do the same. She added that she was amazed at how everyone united to help Sasha and this truly shows how everyone feels about him.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to feel like they are contributing and for kids to learn about tzedakah,” she said. “It makes us feel like we are doing something and gives us a purpose. Everybody is excited about it and we feel like we are making a difference for Sasha and his family.”
Susie Wolbe, Levine Academy K-8 principal, said doing a mitzvah project like this shows kids how something so small can make a big difference.
“Sasha and his family need prayers and wishes,” she said. “It’s important that kids are making a difference in someone’s life. It’s so easy to get tied up in your own life and own world, but you need to know what’s going on in the world beyond you. There are so many ways that each person can help and we want the kids to realize that they have the power to change the world.”
To purchase a prayer chain or make a donation, please visit www.hopeforsasha.com.
Basketball tournament ‘hoops, hollers,’ raises money for Sasha Okhotskiy
For Sasha Okhotskiy, getting to participate in a basketball tournament in his honor made him very happy. He sprinted into the Levine Academy gym with a giant smile on his face knowing he would have fun and see his friends.
On Monday, Jan. 19, three bar mitzvah students — Kevin Chaiken, Griffin Olesky and Grant Prengler — hosted Hoops for Sasha as part of their mitzvah projects. Their goal was to raise money for Sasha Okhotskiy and his family, and that objective was achieved. About 30 kids attended the basketball tournament.
Okhotskiy jumped right into the fun, running, dribbling and shooting. There was a sense of euphoria in the air, knowing this was all done for him. When asked how he felt about the whole event, he said there were no words to describe his feelings.
The three boys said they wanted to do this because they knew how much it would mean to Okhotskiy. Prengler is a student at Levine and knew about Sasha’s illness from the beginning.
“I go to school here and Sasha’s story made me feel for him,” he said. “I’m a big basketball fan, so I wanted to do something I love for someone in our community.”
Chaiken and Olesky attend Greenhill School, but heard about Okhotskiy from Prengler. They know how important it is to assist people in the community and felt this was a good thing to be a part of.
“They told me about him and I thought it would be a good thing to help with,” Chaiken said. “It’s always good to help people and this is a great experience.”
“I really wanted to help Sasha because he is going through a tough time,” Olesky added. “This is a good thing to do.”
Olga Okhotskiy was also in attendance to watch her son play. As soon as she walked into the packed gym, she was enveloped with hugs from other parents.
She said doing something like this is a great way to lift Sasha’s spirits and let him know that everyone in the community is there for him. After the tournament, Sasha got a glimpse of the prayer chain, which brought an even bigger smile to his face. To know how much the community loves him brings him much joy and comfort.
“The chance for him to come and play is great,” she said. “They say people heal faster when they have positive attention and influences around them. This helps keep his spirits so high and optimistic.”
By Rachel Gross