Mitzvah Projects with New York Jewish organizations

Slam-dunk mitzvah projects

for The Brooklyn Paper
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There are many duties and responsibilities a bar or bat mitzvah candidate must complete leading up to the big day, from learning the Torah to planning the reception. One of the most important tasks is inherent in the name of the milestone itself.

Boys and girls preparing for this rite of passage should start thinking about their volunteer commitment — or mitzvah project. The requirement may vary by synagogue, but generally, students must complete 13 hours of volunteer work by the time of their ceremony to help ingrain in them the importance of contributing positively to society and doing things for others.

These hours may be completed through one or several charitable organizations, and can be based on the students’ own interests. Likely your synagogue or Jewish community center can provide a list of recommendations, but here are five New York-based charities that budding teenagers can participate in to help get them thinking about what their own mitzvah might be:

Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is one of New York’s largest human services agencies. It has served impoverished New Yorkers and helped raise awareness about the growing problem of Jewish poverty since 1972.

There are a variety of volunteer opportunities available, though one of the most accessible for bar and bat mitzvah candidates is serving food to the hungry at one of the organization’s free kosher restaurants. In partnership with Masbia, the Met Council operates three of these kosher soup kitchens where there is a high need among the city’s Jewish population – Williamsburg and Flatbush in Brooklyn and Rego Park in Queens. All ages are welcome to volunteer, with opportunities available Sunday through Thursday each week, though children ages 13 and below must have an adult chaperone.

Selfhelp Community Services

Selfhelp was founded more than 75 years ago to help Holocaust survivors seek refuge in America. Today it continues to support at-risk populations by assisting the elderly to live independently in their own homes.

More than 1,000 volunteers help seniors in Selfhelp’s residences, centers, and Nazi-victims services program. Opportunities include visiting the elderly, helping at senior center events, volunteering at the organization’s kitchens, serving meals to the disabled, and more.

Educational Alliance

The Educational Alliance’s roots date all the way back to 1889, when it was founded to help Jewish immigrants settle in the United States. Today, it serves a variety of New Yorkers of all religions and ethnicities through programs that aim to break the cycle of poverty.

The organization has several opportunities specifically for bar and bat mitzvah students that allow them to participate and give back to the community through its Mitzvah Alliance. These opportunities include reading and tutoring preschoolers and elementary school students; feeding the hungry at one of its kosher lunches, Shabbats, or holiday programs; or visiting a senior.

UJA-Federation of New York

UJA Federation has worked to strengthen Jewish communities throughout the world for nearly a hundred years, across 60 countries, and reaching 4.5 million people a year.

Closer to home, Hebrew students have a number of ways to get involved in UJA-Federation’s charitable mission. They could raise money for its Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, or volunteer their time at a food pantry. They can even work with a UJA-Federation mitzvah coordinator to design their own unqiue mitzvah project.

Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center

The Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center is the only full-service JCC on Long Island’s North Shore. It offers a variety of services to promote physical health, as well as emotional and spiritual health.

There are a number of different volunteer opportunities geared toward teens on a one-time service or on-going basis. Bar and bat mitzvah kids can also work with the JCC to create their own unique mitzvah project.

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Reader Feedback

Hannah Miller from Brooklyn says:
Are you able to add Ezer Mizion to your list of choices for Mitzvah Projects? Some suggestions:
1. Ezer Mizion’s Oranit is a fun place to be. Kids with cancer look forward to spending time there, a mini-vacation from scary needles and scary thoughts. Oranit provides activities that help the child deal with the nightmare that has taken over his life. We call it therapy. The kids call it fun. It may be taking part in a musical band, sand play or caring for a small animal at the Petting Zoo. Birthday parties, trips, summer camp for the whole family and Make-A-Wish round out the program. At your next birthday party or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, invite your friends to help reach your goal in lieu of a gift. $100 will pay for a birthday party for one child. Click on link below to see a special wish of singing on a real radio program together with his friends at Ezer Mizion come true for one little boy. Click here to watch families at the summer camp.
2. Some children are born without the ability to speak. Imagine not being able to say, “ Can I have another piece of cake?” or “ I love you, Mommy.” Play charades, charging each player to participate, and have lots of fun trying to express a thought without speech. For you, it’s fun because you know that in a few minutes you will be able to speak. Now try to imagine a child who cannot. The funds will go to purchase special equipment which will enable them to communicate their needs and thoughts.
3. Inside a special child are feelings just like you and me. They feel hurt and frustrated when a younger sister can do something in the house so much better than they. Ezer Mizion’s Afternoon clubs for Special Girls are places where they can shine on their own level and become better able to take part in normal family activities like making a bed or washing the breakfast dishes. Watch the girls create lovely jewelry that is sold to the public and share in their pride. Initiate a Sunday Jewelry-making Get-together with funds directed to support the Clubs. Watch special children enjoying a camp experience that helps them feel accepted and loved.
4. Help save the lives of cancer patients around the globe. Often a bone marrow transplant is the patient’s last chance to survive. Genetic matching between donor and patient is a must for success. Since genetics is based on ethnics, a Jew will match another Jew. Thus the need for a Jewish registry. Ezer Mizion is the largest Jewish bone marrow registry in the world and has saved over 2000 lives, 296 in 2015 alone. Too many are still waiting in hope and prayer for the match that will mean life. Enlarging the registry is the responsibility of every caring Jew. Join with us so that tiny toddlers will have a chance to grow up and raise their own families…generations…eternity. For your mitzvah project you may:
a. Include an insert with a wedding or bar mitzvah invitation asking guests to donate in your honor in lieu of a gift.
b. Create awareness by sending a link from Ezer Mizion website plus a link to this heartwarming story- to your contact list.
c. Have your Chanukah party guests do a page of Find Waldo, then explain how difficult it is to find a genetic match. Quickly. Before it’s too late.
Sept. 15, 2016, 4:50 pm

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