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LA Family Dedicates Petting Zoo in Israel in Memory of Daughter

Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

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Kylie Ora Lobell
Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

In January of last year, Jonathan and Kaye Steinsapir received devastating news. Their 12-year-old daughter, Molly, was riding her bike down a hill, with her helmet on, when she got into an accident and suffered from a traumatic brain injury. 

The family (Jonathan, a prominent lawyer, Kaye and their two young sons), started posting about Molly while she was in the hospital. Her story reached far and wide; it was followed byhundreds of thousands of people on social media. People magazine wrote an article about it. Actor Mark Hamill showed his support, posting, “Sending all our love to Molly!”

Just a few weeks after the accident, Molly passed away from her injuries. Now, with the help of Jewish National Fund-USA, the Steinsapirs have dedicated a therapeutic petting zoo in honor of Molly at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitation village in southern Israel that serves both children and adults with complex medical conditions and disabilities.

“It was Molly’s aunt, Polly Levine, who had the idea within a day or two after Molly’s passing, when she spoke with a friend of hers at JNF,” said Kaye. “As Polly knew, Molly was very passionate about animals.”

Molly Steinsapir

Molly became a vegetarian when she was four or five years old, even though no one else in her family kept a vegetarian diet. Kaye believes that Molly inherited a love of animals from her maternal great-grandparent, Dr. Paul Chaffee, who was the director of the Fresno Zoo. 

“The petting zoo is in a village created for special needs children, and Molly had a very unique bond with special needs children, including an autistic, largely non-verbal boy in her third-grade class,” said Kaye. “When he needed to be calmed, the teacher and the boy’s aide would always have Molly help them – so much so that we became concerned when Molly kept missing math lessons because she was outside helping with the boy.”

JNF-USA National Campaign Director Deb Rochford helped coordinate the petting zoo dedication for the Steinsapirs. 

“For residents to experience unconditional love, free of judgment, from the animals is incredibly healing,” said Rochford. “In return, the opportunity for patients at ADI Negev to provide care and love to the animals, to hold responsibility for the well-being of another living creature, is immensely therapeutic. It’s a mutual relationship that contributes to creating a rich and full life for ADI Negev’s residents.”

The petting zoo has another purpose: to introduce innovative programming to ADI and better serve its residents.  

“If one person can get peace of mind for a minute from just enjoying the petting zoo, that is enough.”
– Kaye Steinsapir

“The existence of the zoo serves the larger mission of pushing the envelope on what it means to provide holistic care,” said Rochford. “People come from all over the world to learn from ADI Negev, so therapeutic tools like the zoo help people with disabilities around the world enjoy a higher quality of life and change perceptions of what residential care can look like.”

The Steinsapir family with Doron Almog at the petting zoo

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Doron Almog, the founder of ADI-Negev, emphasized at the dedication ceremony how the Steinsapirs are carrying on their daughter’s legacy. 

“[The family was] enamored with the relationship between our residents and the therapy animals here [and] how the ‘weak’ become strong when caring for the animals,” he said. “They said it seemed like something that Molly would have loved.”

In addition to dedicating the petting zoo and raising funds to ADI-Negev, the Steinsapir family has established a Molly Steinsapir Foundation to support other causes and perform tikkun olam. They encourage people to say a prayer for Molly; her Hebrew name is Miri Hannah bat Rahmi’el v Havah.

With the petting zoo, Kaye hopes that people will have meaningful experiences when they get a chance to visit. 

“If one person can get peace of mind for a minute from just enjoying the petting zoo, that is enough,” she said. “If many people can, that is all the better.”

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