An Ethiopian Pen Pal
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An Ethiopian Pen Pal

This bat mitzvah girl isn’t getting pens as gifts. She’s giving them away: to strangers in Ethiopia.

Jill Horing, who celebrates her religious coming-of-age at Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor next Saturday, has arranged for the guests at her post-ceremony party to decorate scores of pens that she will send to children in the Falash Mura community of Ethiopian Jews. Horing, 12, will also donate some of the bat mitzvah money she receives to Operation Promise, an initiative of the United Jewish Communities that supports the immigration of the Falash Mura and helps their absorption into Israeli society. She will pass out 100 Ethiopian bracelets she brought back from the African country as part of a recent UJC mission there. And, in her bat mitzvah speech, she will talk about the mission, her first time in Ethiopia, which sparked her interest in the plight of the Falash Mura.

"It made me upset to see how they are living" (residing in mud huts and begging on the street for food) says Horing, who was invited to join the mission by her grandfather, Joel Tauber, national chairman of Operation Promise. The youngest member of the mission, she spent two days in Addis Ababa and Gondar, and flew on an Ethiopian Airlines flight with 150 Falash Mura making aliyah.

"I want to help them get to Israel. I want to help them live better in Israel," says the seventh grader at Seven Bridges Middle School in Chappaqua.

Her efforts for the Falash Mura (descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity a century ago and have returned to the Jewish fold in recent decades) became her mitzvah project at the Sons of Israel religious school.

She gave a speech about her Ethiopian experience at her congregation, and plans at least another one in Westchester in the coming weeks.

"Being brought up in Westchester, Jill didn’t know what being poor is," says her mother, Ellen. The visit to Ethiopia showed her, making her more "reflective." As for the pens, she met several Ethiopians during her brief time there. "They kept asking me for pens," she says. "I like to help other people. I was brought up that way."

"There’s a deeper meaning to becoming a bat mitzvah," Mrs. Horing says. "It means taking care of others."

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