By Ben Tinsley
Young Jaden Kamen’s summer trip to Israel with his family was a bit of a revelation.
So much of one, in fact, that it inspired the 12-year-old to begin a special mitzvah project to raise money and replace some of the worn-out equipment in the JNF Indoor playground in Sderot.
Jaden — a seventh-grader at Plano’s Rice Middle school — was on the third day of his July-August family trip to Israel when he and his family made a point of visiting Sderot, one of the Israeli towns under heavy attack during Operation Protective Edge last summer. (Sderot is located less than a mile from Gaza.)
Jaden, his mother Kim, his father Alex, and his sister Maya toured the indoor playground built there to protect children during attacks. These shelters are adjacent to the play areas so they can be accessed within seconds.
What the Kamens then learned to their dismay was that the attacks last summer had a detrimental effect on these children — despite the fact they were protected. The sheer terror of coming under first-hand attack ignited post-traumatic stress in many of the youngsters who play there on a regular basis, Jaden and his family learned.
“It’s been difficult thinking about what the kids had to go through — and how hard all of this must be on them,” Jaden said. “I saw them when they were playing and they looked like they were having fun — but they also looked like they were ready to jump into a shelter at any minute.”
Jaden thought to himself: No child should have to grow up playing in bomb shelters. Everyone deserves a happy childhood.
Looking around, Jaden noticed a lot of children played there — but that the playground could definitely have less-worn toys and equipment.
“I saw that things are tarnished, and I knew I wanted to help pay to improve what they were playing,” Jaden said. “Several of the bouncing balls were deflated but the kids were still playing with them.”
Improvements to the playground would definitely cost money, Jaden realized.
Jaden’s mother (Kim Kamen, associate director of the Department of Regional Offices at AJC) said she has heard about this playground for years and had been hoping to see it with her own eyes.
It was a powerful experience for her as well, she said.
“It was beautiful — yet tragic at the same time,” she said. “Both Jaden and Maya were itching to play alongside the other children. If we only had more time — we would’ve spent the entire afternoon there!”
Kim said before leaving Sderot, her family visited the local police station where they’ve collected hundreds of rockets and mortars that rained upon their city during Operation Protective Edge.
“Amidst the twisted metal were several remnants of the Iron Dome system that saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives in Israel in recent years,” she said. “Holding those pieces and knowing how important they were and continue to be was an incredible experience.”
Jaden kept thinking how he could help those children. Ultimately, he came up with the idea to create bracelets for adults and children using paracord.
To do this, he drew on skills he had learned through his membership in Plano’s Boy Scout Troop 380.
Jaden currently is crafting the bracelets in both adult and child sizes for this particular bar mitzvah project. He said he intends to sell the bracelets for $5 apiece.
All money collected will be forwarded to the Jewish National Fund, which sponsors the playground, “They will see to it the money gets to Sderot,” Kim said.
To make the bracelets, Jaden purchases a few hundred feet of cord — two different colors — at a time.
As of last week, he had finished 200 feet of cord and 17 bracelets. These cords are white and blue in honor of the Israeli flag. Jaden uses a lighter to fuse the two cords together.
“I end up burning myself several times,” he said with a laugh.
After she posted her son’s mitzvah project on the Dallas Jewish Moms Facebook page, Kim said he received 35 orders fairly quickly.
“He was nervous about this project because he was worried about having a crush of orders to fill,” Kim Kamen said. “But he is trying to get them finished to the best degree possible.”
Anyone who wishes to inquire about the cords can reach Kamen by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.