Rockin’ the ‘Mitzvah

Photo: Mendy Fedotowsky/Portraits by Mendy
Temple Beth Or Bar Mitzvah Josh Self sits in on the drums with Jewish rocker Rick Recht

Mitzvah projects bring to life timeless Jewish values

By Michelle Tedford, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

By carefully choosing the blue glass of his artwork, Tobias Cebulash captured the white swirl of a storm cloud. In the brown, the wood grain of a ship’s hull. And in the navy blue, the movement of the waves.

“I chose the glass so it looks like an actual scene,” said Tobias, 13.

On May 28, Tobias celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, reading from the Torah and leading the Saturday morning service at Temple Beth Or.

In preparation, he also chose a mitzvah project, the creation of stained-glass panels that represent the 12 Tribes of Israel, which he will donate to his temple. The boat scene (below) represents the tribe of Zebulun, haven for ships.

The Hebrew word mitzvah means commandment. When a young man or woman becomes a Bar (son) or Bat (daughter) of the Mitzvah (commandment), this means he or she is responsible as an adult for adhering to Judaism’s precepts.

Photo: Michelle Tedford
Temple Beth Or Bar Mitzvah Tobias Cebulash with Zebulun, one of the 12 Tribes stained glass windows he’s crafted for his mitzvah project

Mitzvah projects are a mainstay of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in the Dayton area, a way for these new adult members of a congregation to learn about the power of giving and service to others.

Some raise money for a good cause or offer their time. Others complete tangible projects for their congregation or community.

The newly minted teenagers often choose a project that connects to the Torah portion given to them to recite before the congregation, an act that brings to life modern examples of ancient Jewish values.

Temple Beth Or Rabbi Judy Chessin asks her students to consider projects of tikun olam — repairing or healing the world — to accompany their study and worship preparations.

“It’s not just to, as they say, put in more mitzvah than bar,” she said. “It’s to make a living, breathing experience out of their portion, to transform something that might seem old and dusty or not relevant, but there’s some way they can relate that to their passions and interests.”

For Tobias, art was more a family passion than a personal one. His parents — Glen Cebulash and Rachel Stanzione — are trained artists, each with a studio in their Oakwood home.

Glen described his son’s passions as more in the process of the art — in music theory rather than making music on the piano, for example. That may be why the multistep process of stained glass creation so intrigued Tobias, who had no stained glass experience before deciding on his project.

“When I started making them, I thought you got a plain piece of glass and painted colors then soldered on top — that’s not what happens at all,” said Tobias, who was inspired by the windows in his temple and the works of renowned Jewish artist Marc Chagall.

Belinda Grody, a stained glass artist whom his father knew through an acquaintance, tutored Tobias in her home two hours each Sunday.

First, Tobias researched the symbols that corresponded to the 12 Tribes, drafting designs. He then chose the glass, matching patterns and colors to capture the intention of the panel. He cut the glass and ground the edges, wrapping them in zinc foil before finally soldering the pieces in place.

The panels relate to his Torah portion on a census of the Israelites. Every person was to be recorded by name, not number, a way to humanize the count, connecting each person to nation, tribe and family.


Josh Self also turned to his family for inspiration for his Bar Mitzvah, held April 2 at Temple Beth Or. The son of an emergency room nurse and a paramedic turned hospital administrator, Josh said he grew up around hospital stories and is aware of the need for urgent critical care. He also answered his parents’ challenge to look for a project outside of the volunteering his family already does.

He found Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service, and its Red Bag of Courage project.

Josh raised more than the $1,000 needed to outfit a bag with emergency equipment such as bandages, oxygen, medicine and blood transfusion kits. He’s donating additional money he received as Bar Mitzvah gifts, hoping to fund a second bag.

A Boy Scout who has already earned merit badges in first aid and emergency preparedness, Josh said his Scoutmaster, Charlie “Doc” Goodwin, a trauma surgeon at Children’s Medical Center, is also a role model for service to others. It’s instruction Josh takes to heart.

“There’s some people who can’t help, so you can,” Josh said. “It’s the idea of paying it forward — you can help others, so it spreads.”

Another way the family paid it forward was in Josh’s celebration. When asked what he wanted, he told his parents that he didn’t want a crazy party that was going to cost a lot.

“We thought that was pretty admirable and very responsible,” said his mom, Annie.
So his parents surprised him with a concert by Jewish rocker Rick Recht. Josh joined Rick on stage, playing drums for a song, and the entire Beth Or community was invited to rock along.


Ella Silverstein has been practicing the pay-it-forward philosophy for years. As a grade-schooler at Driscoll Elementary in Centerville, she began working with special -needs students, helping them with homework or art projects, providing support, guidance and friendship.

Photo: Stephanie Delaposta
Temple Israel Bat Mitzvah Ella Silverstein provides guidance and friendship to children with special needs; she’s also collected hygiene items for St. Vincent dePaul’s clients

While she continues with this today, for her Bat Mitzvah at Temple Israel, she increased her volunteerism to two days a week plus her lunch period. She helps those like Annie, who has Down syndrome.

This spring, the girls worked together on an art project; Ella encouraged Annie to look up images of a tree on the Internet, to pay attention to the parts of the tree, then to recreate them using clay.

During the d’var Torah (talk about the Torah portion) at her Bat Mitzvah June 11, Ella related her service project to the reading in which the Israelites, having been led out of Egypt by Moses, complain first of being given manna, then quail, to eat.

“I feel so blessed that I can go through every day without needing assistance with everything,” she said. “When I work with these children, I realize that I need them to remind me of how fortunate I am, and they need me to get through their daily lives. I also think it’s a great reminder to them that someone really cares about them.”

Ella also saved $90 from baby sitting and purchased two shopping carts full of personal hygiene supplies for St. Vincent DePaul, which attends to those in need, who often suffer from physical or mental handicaps.


These three teens, and so many more, have active plans for how service will continue to be part of their lives.

Ella will again volunteer with special-needs students next year at Centerville High School. Josh is looking for an Eagle Scout project that will benefit his temple.

And with his Bar Mitzvah gifts, Tobias just purchased a glass grinder so he can continue his stained glass work at home.

He has four windows nearly complete and expects to take a year to complete those for the remaining tribes.

When he is finished, the stained-glass windows will be installed above the doorway to the Temple Beth Or playground — also funded by donations from his Bar and Bat Mitzvah class — as a reminder of what he can contribute to his congregation as an adult, a Bar Mitzvah — a Son of the Commandment.

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