By Joe Tash
Jacob Kornfeld was a middle-schooler on a mission — he wanted to help children in impoverished countries as a project for his Bar Mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish youth when they turn 13 years old.
Jacob, now 14 and a student at San Diego Jewish Academy in Carmel Valley, was searching online when he came across an Israeli-based group called Save a Child’s Heart, and he knew he had found his cause.
“I love what they stand for. They save the children regardless of their religion or ethnicity,” Jacob said.
Jacob raised $17,000 for the nonprofit group that performs life-saving heart surgery on needy children. On Thursday, Jan. 31, he was honored for his contribution at a special assembly at his school attended by Dr. Arie Schachner, vice president and co-founder of Save a Child’s Heart.
“He serves as a role model for other children,” said Schachner, a professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Tel Aviv, who presented Jacob with a framed proclamation in front of a crowd of the teen’s fellow students and teachers.
In an interview, Jacob said his project had to embody a principle from Judaism called tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that means, “repairing the world.”
Save a Child’s Heart was founded in the mid-1990s by Schachner and the late Dr. Ami Cohen, who immigrated to Israel from the United States. The group brings children with heart defects to a medical center in Holon, Israel, where volunteer surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals perform operations and oversee the children’s recovery.
Since the group was founded, it has helped more than 3,000 children from 44 developing countries, many of them from Arab states, including the Palestinian territories.
Because the operations are done by volunteer, it costs only about $10,000 per child for the life-saving treatment, Jacob said, which covers transportation, hospitalization and post-operative care. The nonprofit group has built a home where the children and their families live before and after the surgery.
Therefore, the money Jacob raised was nearly enough to provide operations for two children.
Jacob said he spent more than a year on his project. He sought donations from friends, relatives and community members, and also organized a talent show at his synagogue — Jacob played the piano during the show — which netted $2,000 to $3,000. He also contributed some of the money he received as gifts at his Bar Mitzvah.
Jacob, who wants to go into a medical related field, said he plans to continue raising funds for Save a Child’s Heart, and he encouraged other kids to help the less fortunate.
“The littlest contribution can help. Saving a life makes me feel like I’ve done so much for the world. It makes me feel so good and I think everybody should be able to experience that,” he said.
Jacob’s father and mother also attended the assembly. “I’m very proud of him, and that he has taken on this responsibility of tikkun olam,” said Gary Kornfeld.
Before speaking at the San Diego Jewish Academy, Schachner spoke to doctors at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, encouraging them to volunteer with Save a Child’s Heart.
In addition to performing operations, the group trains doctors and nurses from developing countries, so they can care for children with heart problems and also teach others to do so, Schachner said.
“We are building bridges. Medicine is a currency for building peace,” Schachner said.
Save a Child's Heart was brought to San Diego through the Israel Start Up Nation Series by Stand With Us, a global Israel education organization.