Many Synagogues encourage or require students to participate in or initiate a mitzvah project in order to contribute to the community and to help the less fortunate, as part of becoming a Jewish adult. The following are some ideas for possible projects; check with your school administrator or rabbi before you begin.
|Mitzvah Project Resources|
|Visit and assist at a local homeless shelter.|
|Serve meals at a senior center.|
|Collect coats and hats for the needy and donate to a shelter.|
|Collect food for a local food pantry, or conduct a drive for your Synagogue's food pantry collection. You could coordinate this with Passover, as families clean the non-Kosher food out of their pantries.|
|Assist at a local animal shelter, or conduct a drive to place homeless pets.|
|Help organize a rides program for elderly and disabled members of your Synagogue to ensure that they can participate in services.|
|Become trained as a respite care provider to babysit children with disabilities. Donate some of your time to give relief to parents of these children, who rarely get a break.|
|Organize a clean-up of a local park or volunteer to help with a stream reclamation project. Call your County Department of Natural Resources or Parks and Recreation Department.|
|Offer to help build and decorate sukkot for people who are unable, or offer to help with the sukkot at the JCC or a Jewish nursing home.|
|Collect books and magazines for hospitals and nursing homes, or for people in need.|
The "Remember Us" project is a simple yet meaningful program that adds depth to any project performed by a b'nai mitzvah. Founded in 2003, "Remember Us" is a project dedicated to remembering the children who died in the Holocaust through bar and bat mitzvah students. A student and his or her family or a full congregation can decide to participate, and over 4800 students in 1600 congregations have joined this program. The project is simple to join and do, but it puts a lot more behind what the student does.
|B'nai Mitzvah Project: "Remember Us"|
The basic gist of the program is that, upon deciding to join the project, the b'nai mitzvah student, his parents, and teacher are all sent learning materials that describe the project and the process, and a page describing a child who was lost in the Holocaust before his or her bar or bat mitzvah. This memorial sheet contains the child's name, birth and death dates, and possibly a brief biography or a photograph. If a congregation decides that all of its bar and bat mitzvah students should participate, they simply provide the project staff with a count of how many boys and girls are in the class, and the project will send as many materials and memorial sheets as are needed.
This project requires the participation of the teacher and family as well as the student. The mentors can select students to participate, and both parents and mentor should explain the project and its purposes to the student. The actual act can be simple; mentioning the lost child in his or her d'var Torah, doing his or her mitzvot b'shem, in the name of, the lost child, saying the Kaddish and lighting a yahrzeit candle once a year, or leaving an empty seat on the bimah for the lost child. Other students, classes, and congregations have gotten even more creative; doing paintings, embroidering children's names and dates on tallitzum, reciting poems, and many other variations. However, the effect is the same.
Many families have testified to the "Remember Us" project staff that they felt their participation made a difference in the mitzvot, and add depth and meaning to everything they do in relation to it. Participating in "Remember Us" doesn't take any additional time, energy or cost, just a commitment and a remembrance. However, according to the website, by participating, the b'nai mitzvah becomes more than an adult, he takes on the responsibility of "one who remembers".
To become part of the "Remember Us" project or to get more information, visit their website at http://www.remember-us.org. You can read more about the project and about other students' and families' experiences.
(Reprinted from Philadelphia's B'nai Mitzvah!)
|Creative Mitzvah Project Ideas from Temple Judea|
B'nai Mitzvah families at Temple Judea in Doylestown, Pa., believe that social action projects add significance to this important life event. They help teach students, through experiential learning, the importance of volunteerism and giving back instead of getting. In addition to studying their Torah, Haftarah portions and helping their parents plan the many intracacies of their receptions, all Bar and Bat Mitzvah students participate in mitzvah projects that are as individual as the children themselves.
Sometimes these mitzvah projects become a family affair as was the case with Marshall Sher. Marshall and his family spent four hours each month visiting residents at the Madlyn and Leornard Abramson Center for Jewish Life. The Shers enjoyed talking with the residents and helping them with their craft projects.
Another unusual project was done by Ben Crastonopol. Ben's mitzvah project was one that benefited Israel. He had hoped to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah before the fears of terrorism got in the way. Ben and his mother contacted the Israeli Emergency Fund through the internet and learned about a project to provide bullet proof buses and vests for school children and crossing guards. Ben also discussed his project on the radio and in Hebrew school classes. Ben was able to collect more than $4,000 for the cause from the congregants and their guests.
Lizzy Kind-Rubin and Daisy Van Ness worked with children for their projects. Lizzy worked in a home for children with severe breathing problems, and Daisy cared for children in a homeless shelter each week while the children's parents attended group counseling sessions to help them gain financial stability.
A common problem which most people forget about is littering. For Nate Getzow, it was important to do something about it, so for his project he decided to volunteer at Peace Valley Park. There he picked up trash, shoveled snow, trimmed trees and filled bird feeders.
Each of these B'nai Mitzvah students said that they had rewarding experiences and they believe that their mitzvah projects, and volunteering in general, are important elements of becoming men and women in the Jewish religion. As Nate said, "We are old enough to start giving back instead of just taking."
The congregants of Temple Judea are proud of their B'nai Mitzvah students and hope that they will continue to contribute to the community and help others in need throughout their lives as Jewish men and women.
of Bucks County
300 Swamp Road
Adapted from Alex Rosenthal at http://members.aol.com/mitzvah99/mypage/
|Oy! Even More Mitzvah Project Ideas|
Before the Service:
In the invitation, ask people to bring clothes, canned food, sports equipment, all the loose change they have, baby items, etc. to the reception or service, which would be taken to an organization afterwards.
Include an envelope addressed to a charity. With this, your guests could send money to that charity, instead of or to supplement giving a gift to you.
Send food to a less fortunate family for a holiday such as Passover, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, etc. through an agency which will locate a family and give it your food.
The Points of Light webpage (www.pointsoflight.org) shows where volunteer centers all over the US are, where you could volunteer for various community service projects.
Tour the local charitable agencies and shelters. You could then raise awareness of these by placing a brief explanation of each organization's mission in the invitations or as something to take home after the reception.
Learn entertaining skills such as juggling and magic and perform them for hospitals, retirement homes, and for disabled people. This would be a good mitzvah to do as a group, with friends or family.
At the Service:
Donate the bimah flowers used during your service to shelters, hospitals, or other local groups where flowers would make them much happier.
You can invite Jewish elderly people from local retirement homes to come and enjoy your service.
During the Reception:
Instead of flower centerpieces, you can do several things. Contribute the saved money to Tzedakah. Make a centerpiece out of books, and donate them to organizations such as Headstart. Use baskets with cans of food, which are to be later donated to an agency or shelter to be given to the hungry. Find a way to arrange gloves, hats, and mittens into centerpieces which look like flowers, and then donate them
Hold a Tzedakah fair, where each table represents a different charity, with information on the charities and ways to contribute. For information on Tzedakah fairs, contact email@example.com.
Instead of a party for your friends, or after your party, you and your friends could go and provide services to your community. You could help repaint an older synagogue. You could entertain people in retirement homes, disabled children, or sick people in hospitals. Make it a fun group event.
After the Bar/Bat Mitzvah:
Tour the local Tzedakah agencies, shelters, and other charities. After the reception, you could give some of your gift money to these organizations as you see fit.
Find out about specialized charities by going to the Ziv Tzedakah Fund (www.ziv.org) or the Charitable Choices web site (charitychoices.com).
You could organize a program for your synagogue which allows the synagogue to give a Tzedakah box to each Bar/Bat Mitzvah reminding them to continue giving Tzedakah even though they are not in Hebrew school anymore.
B'nai B'rith (212-490-3290; www.bbinet.org ) sponsors a number of worthwhile programs locally in which young people can participate:
|Mitzvah Project Ideas in Your Community|
Food for the Poor
Since providing for the poor is a major ingredient to the observance of Purim, you can get connected to a food program in your community and determine the best means of how you can help bring food to the needy. Several projects that focus on food collections are available through the Center for Community Action.
Project H.O.P.E. -- Helping Our People Everywhere -- is what this community action project is all about. The major goal of Project H.O.P.E. is the collection and distribution of packages of food to poor, isolated, elderly Jews during Passover.
Seders for All
This project can provide you with the opportunity to share Passover with other Jewish agencies as well as cross the religious lines and create a learning experience for a group of people and expose them to the meaning of Passover. This program helps to establish ties within your community by breaking down cultural barriers.
B'nai B'rith, through its Center for Jewish Identity, sponsors and coordinates, in the United States, the international Holocaust memorial project, "UNTO EVERY PERSON THERE IS A NAME". This project is sponsored by the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Dan Tichon, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem.
The program is nationwide,asking local communities to conduct a food drive, during the month of October as a coordinated nationwide effort. Goods collected will be distributed in each local community where the drives are held.
Two web sites that can help you choose would you want to do are www.tzedaka.org and www.ziv.org. Each of these provides suggestions, links to organizations, recipients of mitzvah projects and personal accounts of "mitzvah doers". Books that can be helpful are The Kid's Guide to Service Projects by Barbara A. Lewis, Heroes and Miracle Workers by Danny Siegel and 116 Practical Mitzvah Suggestions by Danny Siegel Published by the Tikkun Olam Program of United Synagogue Youth.
Started in September 2002, Areyvut is a non-profit organization that seeks to formally integrate the values of chesed (kindness), tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (social justice) into the world of Jewish education. Areyvut partners with administrators and educators to create programs that best address the individual interests of each participating institution. Areyvut reaches out to Jewish day and congregational schools of all denominations through advocacy, teacher training, and development of resources.
|Areyvut: Enhancing Jewish Education with Jewish Values|
Areyvut's tailor-made programs provide learning opportunities for students and teachers through interactive school assemblies and staff-training workshops. Areyvut has worked with numerous educational institutions nationwide. Areyvut also operates outside of the school framework to facilitate volunteer opportunities for high school students and to work one-on-one with Bnai Mitzvah students to help them find fulfilling chesed and tzedakah projects with which to mark their milestone. Visit their web site to find a HUGE list of Mitzvah Project ideas and resources such as DOROT, The World Repair Company, AMIT Twinning, Chai Lifeline, Happy Birthday FoundationChildren for Children, Orr Shalom, Seventh Grade Tzedakah Project, Yad Sarah, any many more.
Visit http://www.areyvut.org/Resource/bneimitz.asp, or call 201-244-6702.
Here is a great mitzvah project idea:
|Clown Around Performing Mitzvot|
Mitzvah Clowns trains kids and adults, twelve years and older, to be friendly clowns that visit the elderly, sick and lonely in senior care and assisted living facilities all over the country. Mitzvah Clowns originated in Short Hills, NJ in 1993 and was founded by Sue and Mike Turk. Now, Mitzvah Clowns travels around the country, training clowns and helping to fulfill Mitzvot.
The Mitzvah Clowns program is purely volunteer and consists of a three-hour workshop that teaches how to apply clown make-up and how to act as a clown. After this workshop the Mitzvah Clowns then go out and ‘clown around' for forty-five minutes to an hour.
Mitzvah Clowns director Andrea Hirschfeld said there is a huge transformation in the kids from the time they enter the workshop to the time they leave. "The students enter class and are apprehensive about what they have gotten themselves into,” she says. “But, Mitzvah Clowning completely transforms anyone who does it, and when the time is up, they don't want to leave.”
This program is a good Mitzvah Project for teens planning on becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. People's faces light up when they see the group of clowns walk in, and this gives the kids a good feeling, knowing they helped put a smile on someone's face. Ms. Hirschfeld said she has received positive feedback about the program and some kids continue to clown even after they leave the group.
For more information visit www.mitzvahclowns.com, email SBClowns@aol.com, or call 847-920-1793.
Birthday Angels is based on the simple premise that every child deserves a birthday party. Unfortunately in Israel, many children never experience the simple joy of a birthday celebration. Through Birthday Angels, you have a special opportunity to make a real impact in the life of a child in Israel and enhance their self-esteem.
Birthday Angel's professionally designed kits are supplied to volunteers in the Perach Program run by the Weizmann Institute of Science, the largest student-mentoring program in Israel. Donors called Birthday Angels donate $36 for each kit, which supplies an entire two-hour party. The Birthday Angel receives a personalized thank you from the birthday child. The Birthday Angels project recently won the coveted Menachem Begin Award for service to Israeli society. For more information about Birthday Angels, contact Anita or Elliot King at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-356-3943.
Include Sharsheret in your celebration by choosing a Sharsheret B'nai Mitzvah Project. Many young women and men preparing for their B'nai Mitzvah find it meaningful to initiate a Mitzvah project, contributing to the community and helping others as they become a young adult. Project ideas include organizing toy drives or make-up collections to enhance Sharsheret's Busy Box or Best Face Forward programs, hands-on projects to be included in the Busy Box program, creating and selling crafts such as jewelry or hats and donating the proceeds to Sharsheret, or setting aside time to volunteer at Sharsheret's office headquarters. You may also consider purchasing Sharsheret Tribute Cards for the B'nai Mitzvah in lieu of ordinary thank you notes, or asking guests to make a charitable contribution to Sharsheret instead of, or in addition to, their gifts to the B'nai Mitzvah.
|Include Sharsheret In Your B'nai Mitzvah Celebration!|
To learn more about including Sharsheret in your B'nai Mitzvah celebration, please contact Elana Silber, Director of Operations, at email@example.com or (866) 474-2774. To learn more about Sharsheret's programs and services, please visit www.sharsheret.org.
Sharsheret is a national not-for-profit organization providing resources and support to Jewish women facing breast cancer.
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