Ethan, whose Bar Mitzvah was supposed to be in December 2020, devoted his entire B’nai Mitzvah project to raising money and amplifying awareness for the non-profit organization. In eight months, he raised over $5,000 for PATH, money that became essential for helping people on the street when the pandemic hit.
Torres, along with PATH, provides outreach services to homeless people living in Los Angeles. Torres spends his time meeting with those struggling to see what services they need. He then connects them to long-term programs and services like housing programs, food assistance and hygiene kits. When COVID-19 hit, PATH worked even harder to make sure people living on the street had what they needed because they were most vulnerable.
“[Hygiene kits are] super important because it helps us bridge the gap to say hello rather than us coming to them empty-handed,” said Torres, who has been working with PATH for six years. “It offers a leap to get the conversation going… This work, it helps you see people in a different light, with compassion and knowing how to support them.”
Shampoo, hand sanitizer, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand wipes and non-perishable food items come in the hygiene kits. Ethan was required to raise enough money to create 50 wellness kits. Instead, he raised enough for 150 wellness kits, and he kept going from there.
“We need people to support our neighbors because they don’t have a voice,” Torres said. “We need more people like [Ethan] to help give them a voice.”
When it was time for Ethan to decide what his mitzvah project would be, he didn’t know which route to take. After speaking with Temple Emanuel Rabbi Sarah Bassin about past volunteer projects, he soon found his passion and wanted to help those on Skid Row.
“[Rabbi Bassin] told me how the synagogue fundraises through the temple,” Ethan said. “I wanted to go past that and distribute them myself… I raised $5,000 through GoFundMe. My initial goal was $800. I had sent emails out to my parents’ friends and family and my friends. There was this YouTuber who donated, and he made a video and sent it to his subscribers to also make a contribution. All of the sudden, I was getting $10, $15, $20 donations from all his subscribers [that] were really awesome, [and] I didn’t really expect.”
Around the same time, Ethan met Eileen Dardick, who is on PATH’s board of directors and is congregant of Temple Emanuel. Dardick, who has worked with PATH for almost 30 years, said it’s “very seldom” to find kids like Ethan. She was surprised and impressed by his continuous efforts, especially after he told her he wanted to go to Skid Row and distribute the kits.
“He’s just an outstanding man,” she said. “[Even during the pandemic,] he took 150 invitations and distributed them in his neighborhood to people who may not have heard about PATH. During COVID, he made sure to safely get the word out. He just is so ready to give himself.”
Before COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the United States, Ethan, his family, a few of his friends and Dardick went downtown to hand out the kits. “It was hard to see,” Ethan said. “All these people are on the streets and living in tents or on the ground… Most of these people, it’s not their fault at all. They were evicted or couldn’t pay bills… I talk to my friends about it. It’s nice knowing that I have the time, resources and ability, and I’m putting it to good use… I knew a lot of people were going to get help beyond what I was providing.”
Ethan has encouraged more friends to volunteer with PATH and break down the stigmas around homelessness. Ethan said there is still $1,200 left over from the fundraising. He and Dardick are still in touch and discussing where the money should go.
Dardick noted that in addition to having a big heart and passion for volunteering, Ethan also loves to cook. When he told her he was interested in cooking for homeless veterans at the PATH veteran facility, she couldn’t wait to take him up on his offer.
“We asked him to be on the call for one of our biggest fundraisers,” she said. “He was a star in that meeting. He was like an adult. When we asked him what he wanted to do, he said he’d do anything he can to help us.”
Even with a new Bar Mitzvah date slated for June, Ethan has already taken on the responsibilities of being an adult. Of his many takeaways, he appreciates the power of community and action anyone can do at any age.
“Eileen has always treated me like an equal despite my age. Treating me like an adult and talking to me directly has given me the encouragement and confidence to continue this work,” Ethan said. “In our greater society, at 13, I am still just a kid. However, during this work with Eileen, it has shown me that I can make just as big of a difference at 13 as someone older than me, and I want to continue to do so. Jewish adulthood can begin when you claim who you are in your own confidence, and working with other generations can be powerful. My work together with Eileen and PATH shows what multi-generation[s] can do when they work together.”