Chicago Kids Nix Celebrity B'nai Mitzvahs, Use Money for Church Playground

By Justin Breen on July 18, 2014 5:28am | Updated on July 21, 2014 8:34am

 Ariana Handelman (l.) and Marc Luban pose for a photo at Lane Beach Park. Instead of having a lavish party for the respective Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, Handelman and Luban are raising money for a new playground at Bright Star Church in Bronzeville.
Ariana Handelman (l.) and Marc Luban pose for a photo at Lane Beach Park. Instead of having a lavish party for the respective Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, Handelman and Luban are raising money for a new playground at Bright Star Church in Bronzeville.
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Maxine Handelman and Ann Luban

LAKEVIEW — Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman were in agreement early on when planning their respective Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties.

"No DJs," said Marc, of Uptown. "We don't like things blaring in our ears."

The rising seventh-graders at Chicago Jewish Day School and congregants at Anshe Emet Synagogue also wanted their B'nai Mitzvahs to stand out — but not for the opulent festivities that in some cases have drawn international headlines for featuring celebrities like Beyonce, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.

So instead of a huge bash, the 12-year-olds' ventures into Jewish adulthood will be marked by designing and building a playground at a church in Bronzeville.

Justin Breen recalls his Bar Mitzvah and says he admires these two seventh-graders' desire to help others:

A fundraiser through Indiegogo has been established seeking to raise $30,000 for a KaBOOM!-created playground on the property of Bright Star Church, 735 E. 44th St. Instead of receiving monetary gifts for their B'nai Mitzvahs — Marc's is Nov. 1, Ariana's Nov. 15 — they are asking for donations to the playground. While there will be small celebrations after their B'nai Mitzvahs, their parents will kick in money that would have gone to a party to the playground effort.

Through Thursday afternoon, more than $18,000 had been donated to the cause, which is seeking $93,000 total. The rest of the money will come from corporate sponsorship and other private donations, according to Bright Star assistant pastor Rodney Carter.

The playground will be available to Bright Star's kids but also to the general public, Carter said.

"This is really an awesome project," said Carter, of Hyde Park. "It’s going to really help our youth in so many different ways, especially in an area where there's a high amount of violence. A lot of people can’t play on playgrounds because of violence around them. This will be on a safe space.

"I couldn’t speak enough of how great and selfless and amazing that this really is," Carter said.

 The space on Bronzeville-based Bright Star Church's property where a park will be built
The space on Bronzeville-based Bright Star Church's property where a park will be built
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Indiegogo

The playground, which will be set on a 40-by-80 foot space at the church, will be designed and built by Bright Star's young congregants plus Marc and Ariana. The project's Design Day is Aug. 12, with Build Day on Oct. 12.

"Being able to design it is cool because the kids who will be playing on it get to choose what they want best, which makes it a lot better," said Ariana, of Wrigleyville.

Lakeview-based Anshe Emet and Bright Star have been community partners for about three years after their top religious leaders — Rabbi Michael Siegel and Pastor Chris Harris — met and became friends. The seeds for the church's new playground began after Ariana and Marc visited Bright Star with other Anshe Emet members to watch the second inauguration of Barack Obama.

"It was really meaningful how all these people were trying to make the world a better place," Ariana said. "Even though we were different people in different communities, we all had the same goal."

Marc and Ariana have been best friends their whole lives. Marc said working with Ariana and others on the playground has been inspirational, and he can't wait to make a major impact.

"I wanted to do this program," Marc said. "I didn't want to have a big rock party that everyone else has because it only lasts for one day and has no lasting effect."

For more information on the playground project, click here.

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