Lily Feinstein’s Mini_Mitzvahs are truly maxi
Photos: Courtesy Lily Feinstein/Mini_Mitzvahs
Lily Feinstein preps a meal at an IDF base in Be’eri, Israel, in January 2024.

By Deb Silverthorn

There is nothing “mini” about the mitzvahs that Lily Feinstein is doing. Her maxi neshama (soul) and heart are in overdrive. Feinstein, the co-founder of Mini_Mitzvahs, has helped raise more than $100,000, fed more than 15,000 Israel Defense Forces soldiers and served in countless ways.
“This isn’t how I envisioned my gap year,” said Feinstein, “but it’s changed me in all the best ways.

“There are thousands of IDF soldiers my age, serving and saving Israel and I wanted to feel like I was doing something useful,” she added. “We’re serving so much more than burgers and fries — we’re building connections, boosting morale and fulfilling real needs.”

Feinstein, the daughter of Dana and Ari and sister of Zander, Coby and Benjamin, was in Israel to celebrate Sukkot with her family and begin her gap year on Oct. 9. But on Oct. 7, everything changed and Feinstein’s lifelong plans seemingly disappeared.

“I went back to Dallas with my parents, who were in Israel to help me move in, but all I wanted was to get back as soon as I could,” said the Akiba Yavneh Academy graduate. “They let me return in November. While I’m taking classes at Bar-Ilan University, helping others is the most important reason I’m here.”

At Bar-Ilan, Feinstein, Ariella Goloborodskiy from New York and Noa Haron from Connecticut made friends with Joey Doft.

A friend of Doft’s father Jack connected him with Israelis Shimon Romach and his son-in-law Igor Serbnitskiy, who owns a food truck.

“Jack, in New York, wanted to give soldiers a good meal and a good time. Lily, Ariella and Noa were at one of the first BBQs and they wanted to help. I didn’t know what that meant, but they are truly unbelievable,” said Romach. Romach was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and has lived in Israel since he was a young child. Much of his professional life was spent with the Israel Security Agency/Shin Bet, then as the National Fire and Rescue commissioner; the last three years he has volunteered wherever he can.

Kvelling like a grandfather to the girls, Romach says, “They’ve raised so much money and given so much of their time.”

For the young ladies, who thought their “travel” gap year wouldn’t be, with their Mini_Mitzvahs they have moved across the state from the north to the south and — with a security escort — into the West Bank.

In March 2024, the Mini_Mitzvah crew delivers Purim mishloach manot gifts with customized blankets that say hazak. From left, Ariella Goloborodskiy, Noa Haron and Dallas’ own Lily Feinstein with an Israel Defense Forces soldier at Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer Hospital.

Working with Shields of Steel, $50 feeds a table of soldiers and $2,500 feeds an entire base. Mini_Mitzvahs has provided care packages to wounded soldiers and purchased phones and laptops. They bought a car for a soldier’s transportation to rehab and a ring for another to give to his beloved.

“He’d been working before the war with plans for their wedding,” said Feinstein. “Now, he and his love aren’t working — he because he’s still hospitalized and recovering and she because she’s by his side and caretaking. We set up flowers, a cake and a whole proposal. It was amazing and something we couldn’t have imagined.”

The Mini_Mitzvahs trio met Nei Fung, who came to Israel from his home in China to earn money working in the fields. He was injured by a rocket while waiting at a bus stop in Ashkelon on Oct. 7. He survived numerous surgeries and is recovering at Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer Hospital. He speaks no English or Hebrew but the girls have been able to communicate with him using Google Translate. They’ve set up Netflix in Chinese for him and decorated his room with family photos.

“Lily has seen patients come out of surgery with lost limbs and is witnessing their recovery as they are again walking and talking,” said Feinstein’s mother, Dana. “This is her calling and she’s taking in every moment.

“The girls have become a conduit between home and Israel. They give us all opportunities to help others. We can donate or, on trips to Israel, assist in hands-on ways,” she added. “They’ve opened doors for the public to honor Israel’s veterans in so many ways.”

Feinstein’s parents say she has matured 10 years in the last seven months and is following the example of her brother Zander, a University of Texas at Austin student and founder of Yalla For Israel. The organization unites college students worldwide to support Israel and has raised $180,000 for Friends of the IDF.

IDF soldiers from Unit 8208 enjoy BBQ care of Mini_Mitzvahs on Jan. 28, 2024. The organization has fed more than 15,000 troops in the last few months.

Devotion to Israel is a family affair. Feinstein has been grateful to spend time with her Dallas-resident grandparents, Reesa and David Feinstein, who are now living part-time in Israel.

“Lily, braver than we are, is using her time, heart and desire,” said her father, Ari. “Sure, they are feeding the soldiers and that’s great, but they are also dancing and entertaining them, playing ping-pong and singing. Every night at Sheba there are hundreds of guests giving back to the brothers in arms.

“There is miraculous healing happening,” he added. “The visits are part of the soldiers’ rehabilitation. Every visit and every conversation is part of their recoveries.”

Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky of Chabad of Dallas, where the family is involved, said, “Lily is the personification of what it means to be what we call in Chabad an ‘Ambassador of Good,’ fulfilling G-d’s mission of making the world a better place and putting others before herself, a lesson vital to all and especially young adults. Lily is a source of nachas to her family and to our Dallas community and we, at Chabad, are so proud of her.”

In Dallas, Feinstein was a board member of The Friendship Circle of Dallas and of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum’s Junior Board as well as a StandWithUs intern. She is headed to Tulane University in the fall to study liberal arts and communications.

Feinstein says she knows life on college campuses is scary right now, but she is not deterred.

“I’ve seen the truth, firsthand, and sadly so many people I used to respect are saying hateful things they know nothing about,” she said. “I am worried, but proud of how the Jewish community is on campus.”

Feinstein said that she and her group find ways that they are needed wherever they go.

“We couldn’t do it without everyone supporting us, so thank you. Thank you so much and we hope people will keep on giving so we can keep on sharing,” she said.

To learn more about Mini_Mitzvahs, follow @mini_mitzvahs on Instagram; to donate to the 501(c)3, visit tinyurl.com/Feinstein-Mini-Mitzvahs.

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  1. Reesa Feinstein

    What a comprehensive article very well written with an understandiing, heart and soul. Thank you for highlighting what young people and all can do to help.

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