The Gentle Barn: My Tikkun Olam Bat Mitzvah Project


By Madeleine Maze

Hello friends and family,
Mitzvah means “good deed” in Hebrew. It is common to engage “a mitzvah project” when preparing for a Bat Mitzvah, because as a Bat Mitzvah, I will be a member of the larger Jewish community. It is important for Jews to be of service and engage tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase that refers to the rabbinical teaching that Jews are meant to repair the world through acts of love and kindness. 

Many of you know that I love animals. In fact, I love them so much that I often encourage my parents to get just one more dog—because we only have 5 and that’s not nearly enough. As a young child I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. These days, my vision is more aligned with being a conservation biologist. However, my first days in middle school have me skeptical about my future scientific self. I am considering living by one simple guiding principle:  Follow the path of LESS math. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted! But regardless of math, I remain committed to animals. I believe that humans must be their champions. Unfortunately, we humans don’t always respect mother earth and her creatures. Too many animals are abused, underfed, sick, and abandoned. It makes me so angry that animals are needlessly killed, illegally poached, and widely mistreated. Our oceans are sick and filling up with plastic, our forests are burning and otherwise shrinking, and the loss of habitat and species diversity is becoming increasingly critical. We humans cannot exist without nature, we are part of nature, and humans are often confused about this.

This is why I have chosen to help the Gentle Barn Foundation by both raising money and volunteering onsite with the animals for my mitzvah project.  The Gentle Barn is an animal sanctuary with locations here in Santa Clarita, Tennessee and Missouri. The Gentle Barn is dedicated to creating a kinder world by rescuing and healing animals.  The Gentle Barn is also committed to teaching people kindness and compassion to animals, each other and our planet. It provides animals with sanctuary.  It helps kids who are struggling at home and in school.  It offers animal-assisted therapy and rehab programs for children and adults. For many years my family and I have shared time with the animals and people at the Gentle Barn and we have raised money and visited annually with our TIOH community. The Gentle Barn is a special place for animals and progress and learning; but it’s also a special place for me and many of us here today. The Gentle Barn holds a very special place in my heart. Check out this slideshow for a glimpse of our past gatherings at the Gentle Barn.

This is where you all come in! Please help support my project by donating money. Any amount – big or small – is appreciated. In lieu of a gift to me, please send what you can to this organization. Here is a link to make a Postcard Donation and I will be notified so I can thank you personally. 

You can also support Gentle Barn by visiting them yourself. Spend a wonderful day learning the animals’ stories, hugging the cows, giving the pigs tummy rubs, and cuddling the turkeys. Although Gentle Barn does not currently have any resident camels (and that’s disappointing since there are many camels in my Dvar), you should still go see the Luigi the rooster, Earl the emu, Dreidel and Menorah the pigs, and Holy Cow the cow. You can also get involved by sponsoring an animal, or donating time to their programs. Please do your part to ensure that more animals are treated with respect and dignity, as you recommit every day to healing our world. 

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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