July 20, 2019

Bat Mitzvah Helps Israeli Special-Needs Center

Tomomi Shaw. Photo by Yossi Percia

When 12-year-old Tomomi Shaw was trying to come up with a mitzvah project for her bat mitzvah, her father suggested she consider ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran. 

After watching a video about the state-of-the-art rehabilitative village in Southern Israel that serves disabled and special needs children and adults, Tomomi knew she’d found her project. She then went about raising $10,058 for the organization.

“I thought it was really cool what they did and how they started,” Tomomi said in an interview at her home in the Pico-Robertson area. She said she especially liked the fact that there were “people of different ages hanging out” at ALEH Negev.

Her project connected with donors, too.

“It was amazing to see how many people came together to help donate and support the organization,” she said. “I feel like it’s a big accomplishment for me to achieve. I wanted to do something for my bat mitzvah to help people. It was really nice seeing what happened, seeing that I could do this even though I’m really young.”

And even though she has an additional challenge: Tomomi has unilateral deafness, meaning she is deaf in one ear. 

“Tomomi has an affinity for and likes to speak for those who have more difficulty in life,” said her father, Dr. Robin Shaw, a cardiologist.

“Tomomi has an affinity for and likes to speak for those who have more difficulty in life.”

– Dr. Robin Shaw

“That’s her orientation,” added her mother, Dr. Julie Higashi, a public health physician. “She knows what it’s like to live with a disability and be different. She wears a hearing aid.”

To kick off her fundraising, Tomomi baked cookies and sold them at her school, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, once a week for several weeks. She also worked closely with the Jewish National Fund, a partner of ALEH Negev, which helped set up a fundraising page on Facebook. The page features a photo of Tomomi holding a drawing she made, as well as a brief note she penned, which reads, in part, “When I see people struggle with daily activities such as eating breakfast, brushing their teeth and hair, or picking up a pencil, it helps me understand the power of healing and also makes me appreciate how much I take for granted.” 

A link to the Facebook page was sent along with the Paperless Post evite to her 2018 bat mitzvah at B’nai David-Judea.

Tomomi said she enjoyed checking the page every night, seeing that day’s donations, and watching the notch on the progress thermometer gradually rise to and surpass her goal of $10,000. She hopes one day to visit ALEH Negev, which opened its doors in 2006. Major General Doron Almog, whose son Eran was born with severe autism and developmental disabilities, founded the village. Eran lived at the village for several years until he died at the age of 23.

Today, more than 150 people live at ALEH Negev. The center also provides close to 20,000 outpatient treatments each year to children and young adults at no charge. Currently, the ALEH Negev has an ambitious building project underway, adding a rehabilitative hospital to its 25-acre site, which is slated to be completed by 2021.

“Tomomi is supporting the first and only world-class rehabilitative village in the Negev that is a major part of JNF’s vision to bring 500,000 people to live in the Negev, the future of Israel,” said Neuriel Shore, JNF’s associate director for West Los Angeles. “Through her bat mitzvah, Tomomi has become a true champion for Israel.”