Freedom from modern slavery focus of Bat Mitzvah project

Ava Kuperman during her Bat Mitzvah on June 7 at Eastwood Metro Park. Photo by Mendy Fedowtowsky.
Ava Kuperman during her Bat Mitzvah on June 7 at Eastwood Metro Park. Photo by Mendy Fedowtowsky.

By Miriam Karp, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Like many of us, Ava Kuperman thought human trafficking only referred to sex trafficking, and just to people far away. An English class assignment changed that.

“We read about an Egyptian girl. When she was about my age, her family sold her,” the Van Buren Middle School student said. “Soon after, her owners moved to LA, bringing her along. She did all their chores. The neighbors noticed various signs that someone besides the family was in the house. The girl was rescued at age 16. She is now an American citizen and helps kids like herself recover from trafficking and build normal lives.”

Ava said she thought about the story a lot. “I emailed Stop Human Trafficking Dayton and Abolition Ohio, and met people from these organizations. What could I do to help? I’m 13 — I’m not going to go out on the streets or rescue people.”

For her Bat Mitzvah project at Temple Beth Or, Ava decided to promote awareness and raise funds to combat human trafficking. Her project coincided with Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom from slavery.

“I found a prayer on about freeing slaves,” she said. “I brought it to our temple’s Seder and put it in the newsletter. I found a really cool Seder — The Invisible Seder — really moving— and we used it at my family’s Seder. It made my uncle cry.”

Ava’s mom, Andrea, said she was surprised when Ava told her about the project. “It’s a very big and deep topic,” Andrea said. “I was concerned about how much she would actually be able to do — it’s not very hands-on.”

Andrea said Temple Beth Or’s director of education, Rabbi David Burstein, gave Ava perspective.

“He explained that there both are social action projects and social justice projects, focused more on raising awareness,” Andrea said. “This certainly made us more aware, even of the many products we use that are made by people laboring in slavery or near-slavery conditions.”

Andrea and Jereme Kuperman held their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration on June 7 at Eastwood MetroPark. Ava donated money from her Bat Mitzvah gifts to two local organizations, Be Free Dayton and Abolition Ohio: The Rescue and Restore Coalition in the Miami Valley.

“It really makes you think,” Ava said of the mitzvah project. “Most of the time you just pay attention to your own life. Before I read that article I had no idea that slavery exists today, even in America.”

She hopes to continue to raise awareness, to motivate people to do more.

“When people think of tikun olam (repairing the world), they usually think about helping animals, environment, the homeless. This is different: it’s people right around you. They might even be down the street, even your next-door neighbor.”

Andrea described the project as “very Ava.”

“She is very empathetic and has a righteous indignation. The Invisible Seder was one of the first Seders I participated in that didn’t feel abstract or far away. I felt a real connection. It was very deep and moving.”

To read the complete August 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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