Operation Pay It Forward
For her bat mitzvah project, Ava Bednyak, 13, decided to raise funds to support a young family of three who recently moved to Chicago to escape the war in Ukraine. She connected with JCFS Chicago’s HIAS Immigration & Citizenship program (founded as Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) to get started right away.
Ava’s paternal grandparents, Margarita and Boris Bednyak, moved to the United States in 1979 with help from HIAS International and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. They immigrated from Odesa, which was in the former Soviet Union and is now modern-day Ukraine, to gain religious freedom.
Embracing the motto of the Alexis and Jerry Bednyak (Ava’s parents) Foundation, “Pay it forward”, Ava is putting those words into action. “My grandparents have always told me that I should be interested in my history,” she explained. “It’s so important to me because it connects me to my family.”
“What a perfect opportunity for Ava to pay it forward by fulfilling the role that somebody did for [her grandparents], or at least making the connection to HIAS just like HIAS did for Boris and Rita,” Alexis said. “So, it just becomes this full-circle moment.”
“After doing all of this, I think it’s important to go see what life is like there (in Ukraine) and how much different it is from my daily life,” Ava said. “How can I compare it to the family I’m supporting?”
Just as it did for Boris and Rita in the 1970s, HIAS supports adults by helping them find employment, parents by enrolling their children in school and individuals by assisting them with learning English. Ava’s original goal was to raise a few thousand dollars for her bat mitzvah project family’s necessities, such as kitchen items, furniture and groceries. With help from generous family members and friends, she collected $15,000.