June 25, 2019

Rolling Out the Mitzvah

Tyler Hochman may refer to himself as a little kid, but the Beverly Hills eighth-grader has made a big impact with an ambitious bar mitzvah project.

“My dad told me that I should pick a bar mitzvah project as a coming-of-age project,” Tyler explained. “He told me that to become a man, I had to help the community.”

Tyler embraced the idea. As the 12-year-old Brentwood School student was researching possible projects, American Wheelchair Mission Executive Director Chris Lewis, the son of actor and philanthropist Jerry Lewis, happened to walk into Tyler’s father’s office. Tyler looked up the organization online that night, and, as his dad describes it, he was hooked.

Story continues after the jump.

Lewis estimates that there are at least 100 million people in the world who need but can’t afford a wheelchair and can’t be helped by any other mobility device. American Wheelchair Mission provides them wheelchairs.

Tyler said what drew him to the organization was the number of people he could help. “When you give a wheelchair, not only does it help one person, but it helps 10 people,” said Tyler, explaining that the gift of mobility not only helps the person getting the wheelchair, but also that person’s caregivers, friends, neighbors and families. “I was thinking about what’s the way I can affect the most people. I realized that if I gave away 180 wheelchairs — times 10, that’s 1,800 — that’s affecting so many people.”

After talking with Lewis, Tyler decided to do more. He committed to raising $42,000, enough for 280 new wheelchairs, in order to send a full container of wheelchairs to Israel.

Tyler had never raised that kind of money before, and he had four months in which to do it. With Lewis’ help, Tyler created a four-minute video appeal, which included footage of Tyler delivering wheelchairs in Southern California. One chair went to a Vietnam veteran; another went to a 14-year-old girl about to have surgery on both ankles.

Tyler sent the video — titled “A Little Snowball,” because he hoped his effort would be like a snowball rolling down a hill, gaining in size and momentum — to foundations, family, friends and businesses.

“The voice of a child goes a long way, especially when it comes from the heart,” Lewis said.

Nathan Hochman, Tyler’s father, said that just about everyone gave something. And Tyleralso gave a significant portion of his barmitzvah money to the effort.

In addition to raising the funds, Tyler needed to find a partner in Israel that could help him distribute the chairs. The Hochmans and Lewis met with Chabad, and the organization agreed to coordinate distribution in Israel. With Chabad’s 302 hospitals, rehabilitation centers and other outlets in Israel, Lewis said it was a perfect partnership. The relationship allowed the American Wheelchair Mission to make its first delivery to Israel, and Lewis said his organization plans to do more now that the distribution mechanism is in place.

“It’s one of those situations where you hope that you impart to your kids early and often about the magic of charity and tzedakah [righteousness],” Nathan Hochman said, “that in some ways you get more out of it than the people receiving it. It’s hard to do that if you’re sending a check from far away. So one of the ways to do that was to actually go there and deliver the wheelchairs ourselves.” 

So Tyler, his parents and his younger brother and sister traveled to Israel to assist with the distribution. Lewis, whose great-grandfather Morris was a rabbi, also took the opportunity to make his first trip to Israel.

The 280 wheelchairs — which Tyler dubbed Hoch-Mobiles — were distributed to hospitals and rehab centers serving Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians as well as to areas where Israelis had been victims of recent violence.

Tyler recalls distributing a chair at the home of a man who had lost his leg during a Qassam rocket attack. He said the man had very little and was using a chair with a broken wheel and no brakes. “It was a very emotional experience because I got to see firsthand what it was like to live in Israel; I got to see what their life was like,” Tyler said.

“After this experience, after all the joy I got from it and everything I accomplished, there’s no down side,” he said. “I will keep working in charities for the rest of my life. It brings you joy, and it brings the people around you joy. There’s nothing like it,” he added.

Tyler said that he and his family will keep helping the American Wheelchair Mission after seeing what a difference they make in people’s lives. And his father agrees that this is just the beginning. Tyler’s younger brother’s bar mitzvah is in a year, and the family is talking about a bar mitzvah project to raise money and deliver more wheelchairs. Tyler said he has also inspired several friends to get involved with the organization.

Lewis said the American Wheelchair Mission plans to recognize Tyler at its fundraising dinner in October.

“Tyler is a pretty exceptional young man,” he said. “Tyler will be the cornerstone for other kids that see this as something they can do for their bar mitzvah project.”

For more information about American Wheelchair Mission, call (805) 205-0069 or visit amwheelchair.org.