Visiting the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled on a family trip when she was just 6 years old made a big impression on Mollie Schwarz of Dunwoody. At the sports rehabilitation center for children and youth in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, Mollie saw young athletes swimming and playing basketball.
“I didn’t think people with disabilities could do what my friends and I can do,” she said.
Mollie’s family, starting years ago with her paternal grandparents, are supporters of ISCD, hosting fundraising coffees attended by some of the center’s athletes. Taking a cue from the athletes, Mollie came to see them as athletes, not disabled athletes, said her mother, Lori Kagan Schwarz.
When it came time to select a community service project for her upcoming bat mitzvah, the rite of passage for 12- and 13-year-old Jewish girls, Mollie knew exactly what she wanted to do. An active sports participant herself with a passion for basketball, she wanted to raise money to purchase basketball wheelchairs for ISCD. She decided to organize a basketball tournament.
She had a little help from her best friends since kindergarten — Brookhaven residents Mia Schwartz and Hannah Krinsky, who are also sports enthusiasts.
Mollie and Mia, who both attend Davis Academy, will share their bat mitzvah ceremony this summer at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, so they wanted to do a project together. “I explained the center to Mia and she agreed,” said Mollie. “We both love sports.”
“The whole concept is really good,” said Mia about ISCD. “It’s not just for Jewish people.” The center treats children of all races and ethnic backgrounds from throughout the Middle East as well as Russia and South America, according to Stuart Nitzkin, the national executive director of Illinois-based Friends of the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled. Fourteen Friends chapters are located in the United States, including Atlanta, and three in the United Kingdom. The non-profit agency raises most of the center’s operating funds through private donations and grants. the Israeli government provides less than one per center of ISCD’s annual budget; those funds are directed to ISCD’s accredited preschool and education program.
Hannah loves basketball, too. “I always wanted to do a basketball tournament to benefit disabled children,” she said.
One day in carpool to religious school at Temple Sinai, where Hannah had her bat mitzvah in December, Mollie and Mia were talking about their project for ISCD. “I realized they had the same idea [as mine]. It worked out perfectly,” said Hannah, who attends St. Francis School.
Plans for the 3-on-3 Mitzvah Madness Basketball Tournament started to come together last December, with help from the girls’ families. Mollie and Mia hosted an event at Davis with some visiting ISCD athletes. The Schwarz, Schwartz and Krinsky families hosted a Sabbath dinner for 60 people to introduce them to ISCD athletes and encourage support of the tournament.
The girls were proactive in asking potential sponsors to donate money and soliciting merchants and restaurant managers for products and gift certificates to raffle at the tournament, which was held at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta in Dunwoody in April.
More than 50 middle school students, each paying an entry fee, played in the tournament. Mollie, Mia and Hannah had hoped to raise enough for at least two basketball wheelchairs, which cost $3,000 each. They raised more than $9,000, and are still accepting donations.
Mollie, Mia and Hannah learned many lessons from their mitzvah project.
“The girls saw that to make things happen, you have to work hard,” said Mollie’s mom. “They learned [about] generosity and the power to make things happen.”
Mollie, who will visit ISCD again this summer, said, “It’s an amazing feeling to accomplish something this big not just for us but also for the people we raised the money for.”
Mia also commented that they “had accomplished something really big,” adding that it was “nice to be able to share an experience with my friends who I’ve been so close with for so many years.”
“We couldn’t have done it without our sponsors,” said Hannah, who is also proud of her fraternal twin sister, Samantha, for organizing her own mitzvah project. “Her big passion is running. Every month she gathered friends and family for Sammy’s Mitzvah Miles 5k runs to benefit Andee’s Army supporting a 16-year-old close family friend with a brain tumor.”
For information about the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled, visit fiscd.org. To make a donation in honor of Mollie, Mia and Hannah, click “mitzvah project” at the top of the home page.