When it comes to the secret to spreading kindness, Matthew and Jessica Lish of Queens, NY seem to have the answer. “Start small. Hold a door open for someone and eventually a small act of kindness will build up to fill your world with chesed,” says Jessica.
Siblings Matthew and Jessica have been chosen as the recipients of the Young Leadership Award by Areyvut, a nonprofit organization that develops and implements educational programming and community-service opportunities for Jewish youth and teens.
Areyvut organizes bneimitzvah fairs to match children coming of age with charitable projects, runs teen philanthropy programs, sponsors a National Mitzvah Day, and runs training for “Mitzvah Clowns” who cheer the sick and elderly.
Matthew “Phineas” Lish and Jessica “Pupperdoodle” Lish are two of Areyvut’s most notable mitzvah-clown participants and have engaged in acts of chesed their entire lives. Beginning at a very young age, Matthew and Jessica, in conjunction with their father, have visited the pediatric ward of inner-city hospitals, as well as nursing homes, as part of the Dr. Molar Magic Foundation’s Clown Rounds program. With comedy, clowning, music, and juggling, they bring joy and raise the spirits of the ill.
Both Jessica and Matthew’s small acts of kindness have grown into monumental efforts of giving back to the community. Trained by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College graduates and Big Apple Circus Clown Care doctors, Matthew and Jessica have mastered the skills of true performers, They use their unique talents by volunteering their time performing at the Ronald McDonald House, the Diabetes Research Institute’s Carnival for a Cure, Walk Now for Autism Speaks, and Camp Sundown. Additionally, they have performed as part of their family circus, Circus Bicuspid, another project of the Dr. Molar Magic Foundation, in two original off-Broadway productions, with a third, “Sunday in the Park With Clowns” coming this spring.
“Matthew and Jessica are the reason why Areyvut does what it does,” says Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut. “Seeing Jewish youth give of themselves so selflessly is both inspirational and motivating to the community at large.”
Matthew is the valedictorian of his graduating class, Arista president, and founder of his school’s improv club. He is also a world-record holder for juggling on a pogo stick and was guest ringmaster at the Big Apple Circus. For his barmitzvahchesed project, he constructed, packaged, and sold sets of juggling balls and donated the money to Red Nose Response. Red Nose Response was founded after Hurricane Katrina to unite and utilize the unique talents of the clown community to work in support of the survivors, families of victims, and relief operations following a major natural or manmade catastrophe. He also volunteers his time for the American Youth Circus Organization’s Hup Squad, a nonprofit organization designed to promote the teaching of circus to youth.
“It is a tremendous honor to be receiving the award from Areyvut,” said Matthew. “I personally believe that we, as people, have a moral obligation to help others get up when they’re down, which is why we do the work we do. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside too.”
Jessica is an “A” student, an award-winning gymnast, and first-prize winner of the Coney Island Talent Show for her outstanding hula-hoop performance. Jessica is also a dedicated animal lover and can often be found picking up lost animals in the neighborhood and returning them to their homes. She has volunteered at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, and has worked at their adoption events aiding in finding homes for these extraordinary animals. For her batmitzvahchesed project, Jessica collected and recycled over 10,000 bottles and cans to benefit Camp Sundown, a free camp for children afflicted with Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare, genetic, life-threatening skin disease in which sun exposure causes third-degree burns. Jessica, along with the rest of the Lish family, has volunteered for several years at Camp Sundown.
“We are extremely proud of our children,” said Cindy and Bruce Lish. “Chesed is an integral part of our lives and we are honored and blessed that Jessica and Matthew have made acts of kindness a priority in their lives as well.”
“By recognizing the next generation of leaders in our community, we hope to encourage youth to continue on their path to community involvement and leadership,” says Daniel Rothner.
The awards will be presented to Matthew and Jessica on Sunday, April 26 at Areyvut’s fourth Annual Breakfast at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey. Becky Troodler, assistant principal of Yeshivat Noam, will be honored with the Community Leadership Award. For more information, visit www.areyvut.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 201-244-6702.