Who Is Performing the Mitzvah: The Child or the Parents?

— Cheryl Friedenberg and Valerie Franklin

When it comes to preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah, of course the kids have to learn all of the prayers.  There’s no getting around that task! However, the community service, project A.K.A. “bar or bat mitzvah project,” also involves a lot of time, preparation and effort.  So the question is:  are the kids really doing the work in performing their own bar/bat mitzvah project or does Mom or Dad take over this role and do most of the work for them in an effort to make it easier on the child and lessen the burden?  

If we are to truly teach our kids, who are transitioning to young adults, about tikkun olam (repairing the world), then it is OUR responsibility as parents to guide our children to perform their own bar/bat mitzvah project.  

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Pre-teens are old enough to make decisions for themselves.  As a parent, you can assist your child by working along side of them to research the community service project that peaks their child’s interest.  But, don’t do the deciding for them! They have minds of their own and what seems valuable and exciting to you may seem dull and tedious to them.  There are so many organizations in need of volunteers.  Have your bar/bat mitzvah student dig deep to find that special something, making the project a pleasure, not a chore.

Second, allow them to do the project themselves!  Sure, they may need you to drive them to the assisted living home to play their flute for the elderly or take them to a craft store to buy the yarn to make the crotched hats they hope to donate to children in need, but you are not the star in the show.  You are the assistant.  Permit your child to implement his/her own ideas.  The more hands on work the student experiences, the more pride and joy they will feel in the end.  That’s the purpose of repairing the world.  They will not receive payment for their work; they will be paid back with pride and joy over their accomplishment.

It’s not the parent’s responsibility to write the solicitation letter on behalf of their child who is asking for gently used clothing to donate to a shelter.  Children go to school to learn to write and read.  The letter needs to be written from the bar/bat mitzvah student.  They’ll most likely end up with more donations in the end because people want to give to children when they see the effort they are putting forth in helping others.

Parents tend to feel empathy for their overscheduled children who are involved in sports, after-school clubs and have hours of homework.  Our role is to help them manage their time, prepare well in advance and encourage them to do their best.  If we do the community service project for them, we are short-changing the whole experience of what it is to become an adult in a Jewish world.  We must set an example for our kids and show them what giving actually is.

Now imagine, after months of preparation for this momentous day, your child is up on the bima, proudly delivering his bar mitzvah speech. He proudly announces:  “For my bar mitzvah project, I chose to work with… by volunteering my time at… I really value this experience and will treasure it always!” Now, you, as a Mom or Dad, did something right!  You taught your soon-to-be-adult how to be a mensch and make a difference in this world!  Mazel tov!

Visit www.themitzvahbowl.com, a website created for the purpose of helping bar/bat mitzvah students find meaningful mitzvah projects.

Contact at [email protected]

Unique Mitzvah Projects for Kids

Looking for something different to delve into for a community service project?  Most Jewish pre-teens who are about to reach their milestone in becoming a bar or bat mitzvah are confronted with the difficult task of selecting a meaningful endeavor to serve as their “mitzvah” project.  They become easily frustrated when trying to come up with an original idea to fulfill their obligation in performing a good deed.  Some popular opportunities that many families are already familiar with in the tri-state area are volunteering with a food bank, teaming up with a non-profit organization to do a walk or helping out at a senior retirement home. However, there are numerous experiences that b’nai mitzvahs can embrace.  They may simply be unaware of what’s out there to discover.

Two years ago, Valerie Franklin and Cheryl Friedenberg, two Jewish moms from the suburbs of Philadelphia, decided to launch The Mitzvah Bowl website when they realized that there was no central database in the tri-state area listing mitzvah projects. The site connects bar/bat mitzvah students to social action projects.

This one-of-a-kind website offers kids the chance to find the perfect match for a meaningful enriching experience.  Recently the website was revamped to make browsing easier.  Students are much more motivated to engage themselves if it’s something that interests them.

  • Enjoy dancing? Consider working with individuals in wheelchairs and guiding them as their dancing partner.
  • Do you get a thrill from shooting hoops?  Organize a basketball tournament with PeacePlayers International to help further peace in the Middle East.  
  • Want to feel empowered by feeding the hungry?  Arrange a food drive to send goods to Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger.  
  • Are you an avid reader and want to share your love of literacy?  Create a community-wide book drive for the African Library Project and help change children’s lives on another continent.

The Mitzvah Bowl lists well over 100 unique ideas to fulfill community service hours by getting involved with a worthy cause.

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Raquel Dunoff, a 7th grader from Plymouth Meeting, PA organized a clothesline art sale to benefit Fresh Artists.  This non-profit organization provides art programs and supplies to inner city schools, which have cut their art budgets dramatically.  Dunoff collected art and ceramics created by friends and arranged a sale at her township building.

Adolescents have the power, themselves, to play an active part in fixing the critical needs of our society. By offering them the chance to grab hold of a philanthropy that they feel passionate about, the connection becomes worthwhile and relevant.

The Mitzvah Bowl website provides a much needed resource for this community to assist these tweens and teens to find that perfect match.

The Mitzvah Bowl

— by Cheryl Friedenberg and Val Franklin

This fall, as the leaves change color and the record-breaking heat and humidity are a thing of the past, parents begin carting back and forth to synagogue for bar or bat mitzvah lessons.

Many of these Philadelphia-area families are preparing their soon-to-be 13-year-old children for their bar/bat mitzvah. While four to eight months seems like a lifetime away, these young adults will reach this important Jewish milestone.

Before the big day, students will practice prayers, Torah and Haftorah portions, write their D’var Torah speech and select a mitzvah project. Mitzvah projects are becoming very creative and individually tailored, as more resources online are available. One local resource is The Mitzvah Bowl, which targets teens/parents that are searching for a meaningful mitzvah project. The website allows families to search hundreds of mitzvah project ideas that are easily organized by interest.

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As one parent, Stacy Emanuel, remarks,

Zac really wanted to have something to do with sports for his mitzvah project. Last summer, I was trolling the web for ideas when I came across your website. I saw info on PeacePlayers and the baseball collection drive and showed them to Zac. He checked out the information and really liked what PeacePlayers stood for. He loved the idea of running a 3-on-3 basketball tournament with his friends. He wanted to make sure that his project was going to be fun for him to do.

We are confident our website has helped hundreds of area bar/bat mitzvah students since its inception in May 2010.

Recently, Alex Smith, a May, 2012 bar mitzvah student, contacted us seeking advice on how to find a mitzvah project. He was interested in working with kids, but was very busy during the school week with school and sports. The Mitzvah Bowl suggested contacting Friendship Circle, a local organization where children and teens with special needs are teamed up with a teen volunteer to enjoy many of the social and recreational opportunities afforded to the community at large. Alex is excited to start his project.

Rabbi Craig Axler of Congregation Beth Or notes

What Cheryl and Val have done in creating The Mitzvah Bowl is not just a mitzvah in itself, it is an invaluable labor of love that will generate countless mitzvot over the years. The Mitzvah Bowl demonstrates so clearly that the work of Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World) starts with finding just one small space to repair and the good works flow exponentially from that first step. I am deeply indebted to them for their coordination, vision and labor in bringing The Mitzvah Bowl to the table!

If you are a parent of a bar/bat mitzvah student, don’t look any further than The Mitzvah Bowl – your guide to finding the ideal mitzvah project. Charitable organizations can be listed on the website by contacting us  at [email protected].