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.