STAR-K Certification’s claim that Kosher is “not just about milk and meat” has recently extended to funding a program that is one of the few of its kind in the nation. Known for its proactive local benevolent efforts, which have a ripple effect across the greater Jewish community, STAR-K has recently awarded a very considerable grant to the Chananya Backer Memorial Fund of the Baltimore Community Kollel. The program (started by Rabbi Aryeh Zigdon) is a teen outreach effort memorializing a 16-year-old Baltimorean, who tragically died three summers ago from injuries sustained in a car crash; his levaya was held on Tisha B’Av, 5768.
The Chananya Backer Memorial Fund award comes on the heels of the March culmination of an initial one- year Shidduch Incentive Program that STAR-K renewed annually for five years. That program was an attempt to help remedy the Baltimore singles situation, typical of Orthodox communities throughout the U.S.; it paid out $367,000 to those who successfully arranged shidduchim for 152 local women. Prior to this, STAR-K awarded numerous grants to a number of non-profit Baltimore-based organizations, including a large one for the kashrus library in the Etz Chaim Center in Baltimore and a very substantial award towards the purchase of ambulances, as well as training and certification classes, to Hatzalah of Baltimore. In addition, STAR-K is a major contributor to the Vaad Harabbonim of Baltimore in funding the city’s beis din.
“As a not-for-profit organization, STAR-K Certification has had the good fortune and luxury of being able to devote itself to projects which do not generate any revenue, but are nevertheless of vital interest to the world of kosher consumers,” explains STAR-K President Avrom Pollak. “The Chananya Backer Memorial Fund is our latest initiative in a string of worthy community causes and institutions that we are honored to help support.”
The Chananya Backer Memorial Fund, an innovative mentoring program run by Rabbi Aryeh Zigdon stressing Torah and avoda ideals, has been strongly endorsed by the Vaad Harabbonim of Baltimore. It perpetuates the memory of a very sweet and precious young man, whose untimely death has brought a greater communal awareness to the complex challenges facing our youth.
One of its programs provides young men — many of whom have returned home from a year spent learning in Israel — the opportunity to learn and work in the summer. It fills the time gap before their return to yeshiva with a stimulating schedule, occupying them from the time they wake in the morning until they go to sleep at night. The program averts the many potential spiritual challenges these young men face throughout the summer months.
The summer program allows young men the opportunity to seek employment in a “kosher” atmosphere. It was initiated three summers ago, with only five boys; approximately 45 young men will participate this summer. The morning starts off with davening, followed by two hours of learning; local kollel men are partnered one-to-two or one-to-three to learn with the boys, giving potentially lasting friendships the chance to evolve. After learning, an afternoon of construction follows. Groups of approximately five boys are dispatched with a foreman to different construction sites to perform various jobs for which they have been trained, including demolition work, painting, building decks and a variety of other building tasks. An evening of fun is planned for each night; members of the community host the group for a barbeque followed by swimming or other recreational activities. The program gives its participants a sense of accomplishment as they begin earning a salary, allowing many of them to earn enough money to purchase a return ticket to Eretz Yisroel or have spending money for the coming year while in yeshiva. It also provides them with an opportunity to learn a marketable skill for the future. The summer program culminates with an out-of-town trip, further reinforcing the camaraderie between the young men and their mentors.
“We are very grateful to the STAR-K for partnering with us in this very important program,” says Bonnie Pollak, Director of Operations. “This generous grant enables us to maximize the number of boys we can work with this summer, ensuring that their summer will be productive both in learning and working in a safe environment.”