Heart to Heart: SDJA student devoted to helping Israeli orphans

For her 11th birthday, Rancho Santa Fe’s Bella Silberstein decided she didn’t need any presents: she already felt blessed. Instead of gifts, the San Diego Jewish Academy sixth grader requested that guests of her Sept. 18 birthday party make a donation to Lev Lalev, a girls orphanage in Israel that she has been supporting for the past two years.

Twelve of Bella’s party guests on Sept. 18 made donations in her name to the orphanage.

“It made me feel better because I didn’t get presents,” Bella said. “I learned from school to be a mensch and to give back to the world. If you’re really blessed, you should make sure other lives are blessed as well.”

Bella was 9 years old when she first learned about Lev Lalev (Heart to Heart), when a friend of her sister’s donated her Bat Mitzvah money to the orphanage.

For 54 years, Lev Lalev has provided girls with a safe, warm and loving home. The orphanage takes infants to late teenagers whose parents have been killed in terrorist attacks or war and provides individualized therapy, mentoring and tutoring to enable girls to grow past their traumatic histories and “develop into well-adjusted, self-sufficient and productive citizens of Israel.”

“The first thing she asked me about the girls when she heard about the orphanage was, ‘Who tucks them in at night?’” said mom Heidi, who was understandably touched by her child’s question. “It was so upsetting to her, when I told her there was nobody. For Bella, that really resonated with her as a child.”

On her own initiative, Bella wanted to make some money for the orphanage and started making bracelets on her Rainbow Loom.

Her parents had no idea what she was up to until she came into their room one day armed with 20 bracelets, telling them she would like to sell them as a fundraiser for Lev Lalev. She made and sold a total of 50 bracelets, donating $450 to Lev Lalev, which they used to buy 12 winter coats for the girls.

Lev Lalev thanked her with photos and letters. Bella feels so connected to the girls, she has their photos taped up in her bedroom so she can see them every day.

“It makes me feel proud that I did that and glad that I could help them get a better life,” Bella said. “I want to make sure they get to dance, sing and do volleyball and all of the fun things that I get to do.”

In addition to her birthday gift wish, Bella is also making Rosh Hashanah cards to sell and use that money to buy more items for the girls in the orphanage. She has already taken orders for cards and one of her few birthday gifts was some glitter and art supplies to help decorate the cards.

Bella will have her Bat Mitzah in Israel in the summer of 2018 so her ultimate goal is to be able to visit the girls then and have them join in on the celebration.

Her parents, Russell and Heidi, are continually impressed by their shy and humble daughter, who has told them she wished she had a real job so she could make more money to give to the girls.

“It’s amazing that she has the confidence to do something like this, to be selfless and giving, and that she does it in her sweet, quiet way,” Heidi said.

“It really shows that one person can make a difference,” Russell said. “Can you imagine what she can do when she’s older? Like 14?”

To learn more or give back like Bella, visit Levlalev.com.

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