Her super Sweet 16

Her super Sweet 16

Randolph teen celebrates birthday with mitzvah projects

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Hannah Stepak is developing a following of do-gooders, and she’s leading by example. 

The Randolph High School sophomore has a passion and flair for doing mitzvot. When she asked Rabbi Moshe Rudin if she could use Adath Shalom in Morris Plains for her Sweet 16, he offered her the space for free. On Nov. 9, about 50 kids of all ages celebrated with her by participating in any of 13 activities to benefit local non-profit organizations. 

“I just think birthdays are a good opportunity to bring people together, and there’s so much positive energy to help a lot of organizations and causes,” Hannah told NJJN as the day wound down.

Some children packed lunches for homeless people while others tied fleece blankets for children who are ill or have experienced trauma. One group made bookmarks for patients at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, and another made paracord bracelets for Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to soldiers. All 13 projects were organized in 13 different rooms. 

This wasn’t the first time she used her birthday as an excuse to engage in community service. For her 15th birthday she worked on a service project with friends, but this year “I wanted to do it on a bigger scale,” she said. Her mother said that she and Hannah’s father tried to talk her out of it, or at least tamp it down, but Hannah was not to be moved. “I just think it’s important to help others,” Hannah said.

Hannah inspired several community members to donate time and supplies for the bash. A member of Adath Shalom who is a personal trainer staffed a project in which the Stepak family donated money for every exercise completed by a participant. The owner of The Bead Place in Denville provided materials and led participants in beading bracelets for seniors in assisted living.

And midway through the afternoon, everyone celebrated Hannah with her birthday cake.

Hannah is no stranger to organized mitzvah projects. A graduate of the Iris Teen Tzedakah program, she is now a participant in the Iris Teen Mitzvot program. She serves as a madricha in the Adath Shalom religious school, and often runs mitzvah programs for children in kindergarten through second grade. 

Holding the celebration at Adath Shalom was a no-brainer for her. “This is really an important place to me,” she said. “I’m here as much as I am at our house!” 

Except for the exercise station, the day was all about hands-on tzedakah rather than monetary contributions. The organizations that benefitted from or coordinated specific activities at the event include Project Linus, Bridges, Deirdre’s House, Goryeb Children’s Hospital, Operation Gratitude, Student Rebuild, Color A Smile, American Red Cross, and Free Rice.

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