When Aaron Fils of Boca Raton, Florida was looking for a Mitzvah Project last year, he had no idea that the one he and his family would choose would teach him about an ancient custom and help out his Jewish community as well.
A student at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh, Aaron spoke with co-president Amy Grossblatt Pessah who suggested that he create a geniza as his Mitzvah Project. A geniza means “hiding place” in Hebrew, and is a depository for holy books and other items that contain God’s name. This ancient ritual dates back several thousand years and was needed for Congregation Shaarei Kodesh’s old prayer books, used Kosher holy books and for tallitot and tefillin.
Grossblatt praised Aaron for his character and tenacity. “He really liked the idea and he ran with it,” she said “It was a long project. It took about a year. Aaron did a great job.”
More than 1,000 books were left after the Conservative synagogue in West Boca Raton gave about 500 prayer books to a fledgling congregation.
“We had to sort all of the books by the year they were published,” said Aaron, who had help from his younger sister and several friends.
“He really stepped up to the plate and achieved a great thing,” Rabbi David Baum said. “He educated our community about what to do. It was a really meaningful experience and more meaningful because it was one of our bar mitzvah students.”
Eternal Light Memorial Gardens in Boynton Beach, Florida provided two ground burial plots for the geniza and two additional plots. “It’s a mitzvah. It’s an honor,” said Darren Shapiro, cemetery general manager. “It was a nice service too.”
Rabbi Baum recited the shehechiyanu, a blessing that thanks God for a particular moment of joy, as he participated in his and the synagogue’s first geniza at the end of May.
“Nobody that was at the geniza ceremony had ever been to one before,” Aaron said. “They thought it was a great experience.”
Aaron’s project is “an indication of his compassion and dedication to Jewish tradition and beliefs, and that items containing the words of God must be “properly put to rest,” said his dad Albert. “I’m very proud that he got involved in this and that it helped out our synagogue and other people,” said Ann Fils, Aaron’s mother.
Aaron will be entering 9th grade at Emanuel G. Rosenblatt High School in the fall.
This article is courtesy of writer David A. Schwartz and the The Florida Jewish Journal.