Many synagogues require bar/bat mitzvah student to do social action projects, often known as “mitzvah projects,” as part of their bar/bat mitzvah preparations. Below are some suggestions, as well as organizations that can help you find a project. Are there resources we neglected to mention below? To recommend one, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask Yourself the Four Questions
Start by asking yourself a few questions.
We all know the traditional Four Questions recited at the Passover seder — Ma nishtana haleila hazeh…. But here is a different set of four questions, as well as a Question We Need to Ask Before We Ask the Four Questions.
First, we must ask: What are the other person’s (the person we want to help) needs?
Then, and only then, should we ask the Four Questions:
1. What am I good at?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What bothers me so much about what is wrong in the world that I get very angry and want to do whatever I can to change it?
4. Whom do I know?
And finally: Why not?
#1 May include: giving big hugs, playing soccer, baking chocolate chip cookies, talking on the phone for hours, being a computer whiz, or drawing or painting the most beautiful pictures.
#2 In order to answer what you like to do, you will have to think a little bit more. What activities give you the most pleasure? Can you sit and read for hours? Are you really excited about playing the guitar or keyboard?
#3 “What bothers you?” Are you tired of hearing that there are untold numbers of kids who go to bed hungry every night? Are you enraged when you think about what terrible things happened when the World Trade Center was attacked? Do you feel uncomfortable when you visit a nursing home and see so many people just sitting and staring into space? Now, turn what bothers you into tikkun olam (repairing the world) and make a difference.
#4 The classic example of “Whom do I know?”: After the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, we saw unprecedented giving and helping from all parts of the country. Some people raised money by making American flag pins with safety pins and beads, others held bake sales — anything to raise funds to help the victims.
The late George Harrison of Beatles fame went one step further. He remembered how his own father, a firefighter in his native England, put his life on the line every time he went out to fight a fire and then used the “Whom Do I Know” principle to raise tens of millions of dollars for relief for fallen firefighters. How did he do it? He called all of his friends, the most famous rock stars we know, and brought them together for an incredible concert. The result? Millions of dollars for relief for the victims of the terror attacks.
Know someone who enjoys playing a musical instrument as much as you do and would like to join you in a concert at a local nursing home? Or maybe you have a relative who is a dentist and is willing to give you dental supplies that can be donated to a dental clinic in Jerusalem? Are you and your friends ace soccer players who could teach kids at a homeless shelter how to play?
There is no end to the answers to this question. You just need to think about it… and do it!
The additional question–“Why Not?”–is generally the easiest of all. Almost always the answer is, “There’s no real reason why not. So, let’s do it.” Now, list your own answers, pick a piece of tikkun olam, and go do it.
Resources for Finding a Mitzvah Project
Areyvut is an organization dedicated to enhancing Bar and Bat Mitzvah experiences through participation in social action. The staff of Areyvut can work with students and their families to develop and personalize social action projects.
UJA-Federation Mitzvah Project
The Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah program enables bar and bat mitzvah students to create their own unique mitzvah project that connects their interests and hobbies to UJA-Federation of New York’s work around the world. Contact UJA-Federation for more information.
What Else Can You Do to Make This a Real Mitzvah Party?
Want to have the most beautiful kippot for your guests? Ones that no one has ever seen before? Brightly colored and beautifully patterned? Check out MayaWorks. Their kippot will not only wow your guests but will also help support the women who make them in remote villages of Guatemala. (These women are VERY busy — you need to place your order very early.)
Mitzvah Tallit (Prayer Shawl) Bag
Want a new tallit bag to hold your first tallit? Reach out to the North American Conference on
Ethiopian Jewry for beautiful bags made by Ethiopian Jews. The group also offers numerous mitzvah project ideas on its website.
When it comes to your party, there are so many things you can do for centerpieces.
1. Books, books, and books! An arrangement of kids’ books, audiotapes, videotapes, and CDs can then be given away to a deserving organization in your area.
2. Food, food, and food! An arrangement of canned and boxed foods in a basket can then be donated to a local pantry or shelter.
3. Want to go the traditional route with flowers or plants? Arrangements of individual plants and flowers can be broken up and distributed to the local hospital, shelter, or nursing home, or you can ask your rabbi or synagogue office to give you the names of congregants who might enjoy some. You can do this with balloons and bimah [pulpit] arrangements, too.
4. Speaking of bimah arrangements, don’t forget that you can make attractive baskets of toys and stuffed animals and distribute them as well.
5. Are you a sports fanatic? Try collecting sports equipment and arrange it as centerpieces. After the party? Give it away to local shelters where kids may not have their own equipment.
6. Use your imagination! There are hundreds of ways to do this–just keep thinking mitzvahs!
Got a caterer preparing your party? Make sure you tell them that you want all of the leftovers packed up so that you can bring them to a nearby pantry or shelter after your party. Don’t let them tell you they can’t because they don’t want to be sued.
Here is a copy of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Law (a federal law stating that no one can be held liable for any illness resulting from the donation of food). Many people do not know about this law. It will be your proof if the caterer does not want to cooperate.
Selections from the New Federal Food Donation Law:
The “Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” appears in the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 as 42 U.S.C. 12672. The legislation essentially states that the donor of food to a nonprofit organization to people in need is free of liability. This act provides uniform coverage for the entire country.
(c) Liability for damages from donated food and grocery products.
(1) Liability of person or gleaner. A person or gleaner shall not* be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals.
OK! You’ve had the service–everyone was so impressed with you! The party could not have been better –everyone had a ball. One thing is left to make this is a real mitzvah bar or bat mitzvah. Are you going to share some of the many gifts you received with others who are less fortunate?
Reprinted with permission from Ziv Tzedakah Fund, Inc.
Pronounced: baht MITZ-vuh, also bahs MITZ-vuh and baht meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, Jewish rite of passage for a girl, observed at age 12 or 13.
Pronounced: BEE-muh, Origin: Hebrew, literally “stage,” this is the raised platform in a synagogue from which services are led and the the Torah is read.
Pronounced: MITZ-vuh or meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, commandment, also used to mean good deed.
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)
Pronounced: tah-LEET or TAH-liss, Origin: Hebrew, prayer shawl.