Daniel Rothner was raised in Chicago in a home steeped in chesed. “My parents and both sets of grandparents were very involved in the community,” he shares. “On one side, my grandparents founded the day school, and my other grandparents established the camp my siblings and I attended. As far back as I remember, my parents have always been actively involved in working on behalf of the community, to meet the needs of the klal. This was the major focus of my youth.”
Daniel created an impressive array of initiatives while attending college and graduate school. In 2002, he launched Areyvut, which means responsibility. But when describing the work of this exemplary organization, responsibility is only the beginning. Areyvut’s mission is to infuse the lives of Jewish youth and teens with the core Jewish values of chesed, tzedakah, and tikkun olam, so that they can become thoughtful members of the community of tomorrow by closely collaborating with educators and organizations, and offering a variety of grassroots programs created to spark the imagination of the enthusiastic young participants and bring these core values to life.
Areyvut offers Jewish day schools, congregational schools, synagogues, and community centers a variety of opportunities to empower and enrich their youth members by creating innovative programs that make these programs meaningful to them.
“If you want to reach out and perform a chesed, give tzedakah, or perform an act of tikkun olam by doing something that is meaningful for you, but you don’t know how to go about the process, it can be quite challenging,” Daniel explains. “Areyvut will facilitate the process, no matter where you live.”
Prior to establishing Areyvut, Daniel taught Judaic Studies at HAFTR and Heschel middle schools, where he developed and implemented a variety of chesed and tzedakah projects and programs. He earned a BA from Yeshiva University and an MA in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School. He also received a master’s of education degree in administration and supervision from Loyola University and principal certification from the Jewish Educational Leadership Institute in Chicago. Daniel has presented at conferences, day schools, synagogues, and workplaces on ethics, leadership, and actively making a difference.
Daniel serves on the Middot Committee at Yeshivat Noam and volunteers for Bikur Cholim of Teaneck. Additionally, he facilitates a group of Mitzvah Clowns that regularly visit senior centers, children with special needs, and those in need of a friendly visit. He has coached youth baseball, basketball, and soccer and is active in Bergen LEADS, a unique leadership program.
Featuring a stellar selection of resources and initiatives that are relevant, meaningful, and greatly impact the youngsters’ lives, the following is a sampling of the many available spiritually enriching options:
Parsha Themes. Areyvut created this resource to help facilitate meaningful discussion, each highlighting a specific theme, each a springboard for lively discourse at the Shabbat table.
Summer Program—5 Days/5 Ways. Now in its second year, Areyvut’s 5 Days/5 Ways program is an innovative chesed camp targeting middle-school students. For one week over the summer, the youngsters come together to learn about and participate in acts of kindness, community service, and good deeds.
Focusing on different themes each day, the camp instills Jewish values and teaches the campers skills in inclusion and consensus building. The program’s goal is for participants to develop a moral commitment to others’ needs and concerns and to learn to care about others in their community who are outside of their own lives.
The camp first incorporates projects and activities that teach about Jewish values, and then puts their newly acquired skills into action by taking the campers into the community. Working in tandem for the greater good, the youngsters spend their week packing clothing and school supplies for underprivileged kids, delivering sandwiches they made to senior centers, making and distributing dog toys to local pet stores, and washing ambulances at the local volunteer ambulance corps, among a plethora of other meaningful activities. Imbued with an immense feeling of accomplishment, the kids exit the program happy and inspired to carry out their own acts of kindness and chesed going forward.
“You Matter” Cards. Areyvut’s “You Matter” Cards were created to recognize the value of a life in a simple yet extremely powerful way for both the recipient and the giver. Often, people live their lives not realizing their full potential. Faced with challenging situations, they may feel helpless and alone. Being at the receiving end of a simple act of kindness, such as a smile, a warm greeting, a heartfelt invitation for a Shabbos meal, or a “You Matter” card, can make the difference between feeling invisible and feeling loved and supported. This chesed initiative is mutually beneficial; to offer succor and support to someone in need is an equally powerful experience.
For Daniel Rothner, the most rewarding aspect of his work is infusing others with his passion for chesed. “Several years ago, we had two summer interns who were both studying to be rabbis. Before they left, they came to tell me what a tremendous impact Areyvut had made on them. That they took the time and made a point to tell me how they felt, and to see the kids so excited, enthusiastic, and involved in doing chesed is truly rewarding.”
For further information about Areyvut, please visit Areyvut.org.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.