Our Visit with Izzy the Mitzvah Bear

By Catherine Rosing

In September of 2011, 12 adorable stuffed bears departed from the URJ New York offices. Known as the “Traveling Mitzvah Bears,” the bears will visit more than 100 URJ Early Childhood Centers in congregations located throughout the United States and Canada, helping young children learn about the Jewish value of Hachnasat Orchim – hospitality/welcoming the guest. Learn more and see photos of bears’ travels.

By the time Izzy the Mitzvah Bear arrived at Temple Kehillat Chaim in Roswell, Ga., the preschool students had already left for the day. Luckily, our Road to Confirmation high schoolers – many of whom began their Jewish education in our preschool – were soon in the building, and Izzy didn’t have to wait long to meet them. Almost immediately, the students were performing the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim – welcoming the stranger – and taking lots of group pictures with Izzy. Wow… what a welcome!

The next day, cleaned and stitched (his neck seam had loosened), Izzy began a whirlwind of activities and fun with students in the preschool. In the 2-year-olds’ classroom, the war cry “Mine!” resonated loudly, creating a great opportunity to discuss sharing, taking turns, and creating shalom bayit (peace in the home). Izzy also met with our 18-month-olds and our Pre-K students, who had many questions, and, having just embarked on a unit called “Tell Me a Story,” were especially intrigued by the journal that travels with each Mitzvah Bear.

During our Kabbalat Shabbat service, Izzy led the children (with a little help) in singing “Shabbat Shalom” and posed with Emma, our bat mitzvah, who is also a former preschool student. On Sunday, Izzy participated with our religious school students in model seders, and on Monday night he attended our women’s seder. Not only did Izzy get around the congregation, but he has been a terrific goodwill ambassador, helping us to educate our congregants about some of the wonderful programming provided to Temple Kehillat Chaim by the URJ.

As part of his visit, Izzy traveled with me and one of my former preschool students (see a trend here?) who took on this mitzvah as his bar mitzvah project several years ago. Together, we traveled 2 ½ hours south of Atlanta to Fort Benning, Ga., to help make a seder for the 150-200 Jewish soldiers stationed there. Members of Temple Israel in Columbus, Ga., assisted the base chaplain in leading the seder and helped provide some of the ritual foods not available from the mess hall. We assisted, as we do each year, with setting up, cooking, serving, and cleaning up. Needless to say, the soldiers loved Izzy!

Although the URJ’s Mitzvah Bear project started as a preschool initiative, it has evolved into so much more for our congregation. Thank you, URJ, for providing an incredible opportunity for us to teach our children about mitzvot, caring, and sharing. We will truly miss Izzy when it’s time to send him on to his next destination!

Catherine Rosing is the education director of the Temple Kehillat Chaim Preschool.

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