November 15, 2019

Levi Brous-Light: His ‘Unidos’ Dolls Help Separated Children

On the “assembly line,” the workers sometimes refer to him as “The General.” But when he’s not overseeing production, he’s just 9-year-old Levi Brous-Light, the youngest child of IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous and writer David Light.

In the last few weeks, Levi has been producing little dolls called “Unidos” (“united” in Spanish), with the help of family and friends. He and his parents set up a table near the Larchmont farmers market on July 19 to sell 200 of the “creatures,” as Brous calls them. Proceeds from the sales go to the nonprofit legal-aid organization Bet Tzedek, to fund legal defense for children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. With the help of his salesforce — sisters Eva and Sami and other family members — Levi raised more than $2,100.

In a Facebook post about the project’s origin, Brous said Levi had been inspired while visiting Nachalat Binyamin — the famous Tel Aviv street where local artists display and sell their creations — during IKAR’s recent community Israel trip.

I heard about the kids being separated from their parents, and I thought, like, why should I make [these toys] just for myself if I can make a difference and, hopefully, get these kids back to their families?

Levi took time out from selling his wares to discuss his project — with a little help from his parents — at a Larchmont coffee shop.

Levi Brous-Light: “There were, like, really cool artists like everywhere [in Tel Aviv]. We came to this little tent and they were selling these little creatures. They were really cool. I liked that they were all made out of recycled materials. And they were really cute. I got excited because I thought, ‘If I make my own, it’ll be fun and bring me closer to anyone who helps.’ Then I heard about the kids being separated from their parents, and I thought, like, ‘Why should I make them just for myself if I can make a difference and, hopefully, get these kids back to their families?’ And so I did.”

Jewish Journal: Levi wanted to make 3,000 creatures made from a tennis ball, binder clips, marbles and spray paint …
Sharon Brous on Facebook: [As] a kind of artistic protest to the forced separations, then sell them to raise funds to pay for the lawyers who were working to reunite the kids and their parents.

JJ: But producing one or two a day meant the project would take about 9 1/2 years. So they scaled down the production goal while drafting the rest of the family to join the “assembly line.” The Los Angeles Tennis Club donated old tennis balls, Bibi’s Bakery owner Dan Messinger provided boxes for storage and display, and graphic designer Christina Saucedo created the labeling.
At the farmers market, one woman bought a creature and came back a while later. She had spied a father with a little boy and offered Levi’s creation to the boy, telling the two about the cause the project was benefiting. The father burst into tears. After 20 years living in the U.S., his wife was being deported. The customer came back to the table to share the story, then she and Brous went to find the man, talked to him and connected him with Bet Tzedek.
SB: Hopefully, the lawyers there will be able to help him with his particular case.
JJ: Who was the best worker on the project?
LB-L: My dad.

JJ: What did your mom contribute?
LB-L: She’s going to the stores to get extra supplies and posts [on social media] about it. And she found the fund we’re giving to.

JJ: What was the hardest part of production?
LB-L: We had to, like, stab them [the tennis balls] and shove clips into them, so it was really hard. Halfway through, we got a solder [iron] and started soldering through them. That made the process much faster. Instead of making 20 a day we made, like, 60.”
David Light: He’s a force of nature, this little one.

JJ: You said you had injuries from using the hot-glue gun?
LB-L: I burned myself and I’m covered in paint everywhere.

JJ: Before he left for camp this week, Levi went back into “the factory” to make more, riding the fundraising momentum and also because he wants his own Unidos.
LB-L: I think I’m going to buy some from myself. I have to negotiate with myself. (The dolls are available for a minimum donation of $10.)
DL: Hopefully, you’ll give yourself a good deal.

JJ: You can get your own Unidos creature by messaging David Light on Facebook. The creatures’ wide eyes seem the perfect reminder to remain vigilant in the current moment.
SB on Facebook: Here’s the thing: This isn’t everything, but it’s something. And these days, with the winds of despair blowing hard, doing something seems like an important act of spiritual resistance.

JJ: “It’s the eyes that get you,” the proud rabbi/mother wrote, talking about the little creatures, but possibly also about the vision of the boy who created them.