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Chicago Kids Who Nixed B'nai Mitzvah Bashes Build South Side Playground

By Justin Breen | October 14, 2014 8:09am
 Instead of having having lavish Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties, Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman raised money to build a playground at a South Side church.
Bar Mitzvah playground
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BRONZEVILLE — Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman haven't had their B'nai Mitzvahs yet, but they've already organized quite a good deed.

Instead of enjoying opulent B'nai Mitzvah bashes, the seventh-graders at Chicago Jewish Day School and congregants at Anshe Emet Synagogue raised money to build a playground at Bright Star Church, 735 E. 44th St., in Bronzeville.

From 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday, more than 200 volunteers, including children from Bright Star and Anshe Emet, built the "Celebration Playground."

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

The KaBoom! playground includes various climbers, a zip line, slide, firefighters pole, hydraulic drop zone, climbing rock wall, monkey bars, walk-the-plank and two rocking animals.

"The build was so much fun," said Ariana, 12 of Wrigleyville, whose Bat Mitzvah is Nov. 15. "I loved getting to put together the pieces of the park and seeing it come to life."

Said Marc, 13, of Uptown, whose Bar Mitzvah is Nov. 1: "It was really fun to come together from our different communities to build together ... [and] looking out and seeing people having fun, making friends and making the world a better place."

A fundraiser through Indiegogo raised nearly $45,000 from more than 500 donors — $15,000 more than their goal. The rest of the $93,000 needed to build the playground came from corporate sponsorship and other private donations, according to Bright Star assistant pastor Rodney Carter.

"This was such an amazing experience," said Carter, of Hyde Park. "I think this day will be remembered by both organizations and communities. Together, we built something that will last a long time and bring a safe play space for the children that Bright Star serves."

The playground was built on a 40-by-80-foot lot at the church and was designed by Bright Star's young congregants plus Marc and Ariana.

"We did it — raised the money, energized and connected two dramatically different communities, got lots of people all over the world to think a little bit differently about how a Bar and Bat Mitzvah could be celebrated, and oh yeah, we built a playground," said Ariana's mother, Max Handelman.

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 were planted after Ariana and Marc visited Bright Star with other Anshe Emet members to watch the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Near the playground's completion, Marc and Ariana went to Bright Star's roof to see the project they had helped mastermind.

"Seeing everyone working ... it looked like everyone was having fun doing a mitzvah with us," Ariana said.

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