In honor of her bat mitzvah, Livia Kobrin, of Riverdale, decided to do something a little different. She went to the Van Cortlandt apartment complex, the Amalgamated Norc in the Bronx, to teach residents of the retirement community how to create mosaic panels to decorate and enhance their facility.
Livia Ayelet Kobrin is 12 years old and in the 7th grade at SAR. Livia’s mom, Michelle Greenberg Kobrin, is a professor of law at Cardozo Law School and a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School. Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Kobrin, Livia’s dad, is rosh hayeshiva/head of school at North Shore Hebrew Academy.
Michelle explained, “Livia wanted to do something for her bat mitzvah that helped others and connected people, because she’s a natural connector!” Livia wanted to share her love of art and talent as an artist.
Niti Minkove, director of volunteers at the Bronx Jewish Community Council (BJCC), has been a friend of the family for more than 20 years and has provided guidance to each of the Kobrin girls in preparation for their own bat-mitzvah projects. (Livia is the youngest of four sisters.) Niti remarked, “Part of my mission is to create opportunities for socialization for our senior clients and to provide meaningful intergenerational opportunities. We also plan Jewish experiences and holiday celebrations for our clients. I have become known as the BJCC joymaker.”
Niti is a “real gem and has a wonderful way of connecting people and their talents with needs in the community,” explained Livia’s mom, and soon Livia and Niti were meeting to discuss a project that would be intergenerational, while creating a beautiful art project in a fun and engaging atmosphere. Livia explained that she would teach the residents how to create a mosaic; she would develop themes for three panels, assemble and cut the glass for the mosaics with her family and friends (which took weeks and weeks to accomplish), and bring the many elements to the community room where all the guests would work together to complete the panels.
It took Livia several weeks to assemble the parts: Wood panels had to be purchased, cut and painted, designs were drawn by Livia on the panels and the multitudes of cut glass had to be organized and arranged for each table. Within minutes of distributing the materials and offering instruction, Livia’s friends, parents, grandparents and senior residents, some of whom attended the workshop with their own grandchildren, were pasting flowers and grass on one panel, while lions and lambs were being pasted on another. Cooperation was the word of the day!
Livia’s mom stated, “I loved seeing Livia use her skills to help others, and learn that there is always a way to use a talent to help others, and to see Livia plan and take control of a big community chesed project. I also loved seeing how all the members of our family and friends and the larger community all found themselves in Livia’s project—she is a natural connector, and it worked so well!”
Livia’s idea was to create a series of three panels, Winter, Spring and Summer, that conveyed her message of and belief in a future of peace and hope. She wanted to see people working together on something optimistic. The series of panels, with their colorful shapes and enchanting designs demonstrate that hope and peace are expressed even in the winter, in the darkest of times, and lead us to the promise of rejuvenation experienced in the spring and summer.
In the winter panel, for example, the barren trees of winter have a friend, a snowman, cheering them on, and they eventually yield the blooms of the pomegranates in the summer. In Jewish tradition, pomegranates symbolize the belief that even if something is bitter on the outside, the inside can be bursting with goodness. The “lion embracing the lamb” is the classic symbol of peace and serenity. For Livia, the combination of all of these details signify peace, optimism and the promise derived from cooperation and understanding.
Livia easily slid into her role as instructor as she helped others work with the mosaics. Clearly, “she saw that we are a mosaic, making a mosaic,” Michelle said. “A mosaic is really Livia’s way of looking at the world, and as she puts it, ‘seeing all the people come together, the younger and older, was the most important part.’”
Livia was excited when the older residents asked her to return to the community room to continue to work on other mosaic projects with them. That was a huge compliment and Livia and her friends will try to do just that. Pizza and snacks were a great hit at the conclusion of the program.
Both Michelle and Jeff recognized the many skills Livia learned in organizing this project, including planning and execution, managing and delegating and meeting with different people where they are and helping them find their place. For these proud parents, encouraging their children to help within their community and watching the literal mosaic of a community creating a new mosaic was an amazing and beautiful experience.
In preparation for her bat mitzvah, Livia engaged in several other activities as well. Together with the rest of her family, Livia raised Liberty, a future guide dog, as a way of developing empathy for those with disabilities. She is also raising money for an art therapy program in Israel for children, but she was especially dedicated to doing something to support the local community, while involving her friends and family in growing their own connections to the community. The mosaic project incorporated these important elements.
By Yvette Finkelstein