A Compassionate Spirit

By Kim Kupfer

Compassion. That is how her mother describes her. Being the youngest of three siblings, she grew up around values of kindness, giving back to the world, sprinkled with strong Jewish traditions. It is no wonder then that Rena Cheskis chose to do a Bat Mitzvah project supporting the Libby Urie Kosher Food Pantry at JFS.

Rena grew up wrapped warmly in the Jewish community of Harrisburg and spent nearly every Shabbat of her life in shul. She was just four when she watched her brother Hallel study for and complete his Bar Mitzvah studies. As her sister Devorah, just twenty-two months older, studied for her Bat Mitzvah, Rena was eager to start studying for her own. Finally, the day before Devorah’s Bat Mitzvah service, Rena learned what her Parsha portion would be. In true Rena fashion, she announced to the guests at Devorah’s Bat Mitzvah celebration that they would all be invited to celebrate her own Bat Mitzvah in just two years.

Her parents, Mandy and Joel Cheskis, chose to settle in the heart of Harrisburg’s Jewish community many years ago. Their neighbor, Barry Stein, is the former Executive Director of JFS.  As the pandemic caused millions of people to rely on food pantries, Rena thought to support JFS and the Kosher Food Pantry there.

Rena became a Bat Mitzvah on August 21st at Chisuk Emuna Congregation. The family planned a luncheon after the ceremony. Rena created gift bags as centerpieces to go on all the tables. She will shop at Costco with her Bat Mitzvah money and fill the bags with kosher food for JFS’ Libby Urie Kosher Food Pantry. Then after her Bat Mitzvah celebration, Rena will deliver the bags to JFS. These actions, both using her own Bat Mitzvah money to donate to the hungry and supporting her neighborhood JFS, are indicative of the beautiful values Rena embraces.

Because Rena also likes to sing and play guitar, she has a second Bat Mitzvah project: performing two Zoom concerts for the Campus of the Jewish Home to brighten the residents’ spirits during the pandemic. Rena plays the guitar and sings beautifully, so this was another natural extension of her gifts and values.

Rena Cheskis is an authentic, warmhearted spirit. She embodies compassion: truly caring about others, even during a pandemic. What a blessing she is in our small Harrisburg Jewish community. Mazel Tov!