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Choose a bar mitzvah project that reflects your interests

Project you!

for The Brooklyn Paper

It’s hard not to feel bad for the average bar mitzvah student.

There he is, doing his best to get through middle school, keep up with his homework, find time to socialize, and deal with the fact that he sounded like Michael Cera one day and James Earl Jones the next. It’s the opposite of arrested development—it’s accelerated development, and then — bam! The bar mitzvah year hits hard!

Now, he also needs to keep track of his lessons, grasp what he worked on with the cantor, and write some kind of speech — all to be delivered in front of a couple hundred of his closest friends and relatives.

Then, on top of all that, he’s socked with one more requirement: a mitzvah project.

Oy vey!

Most b’nei mitzvah kids are required by their synagogues to perform some kind of mitzvah or community project, or at least accrue a minimum number of service hours. This final requirement may be looked at as a straw that can quite possibly break the straps off a kid’s already over-stuffed backpack. But it’s important that a child look at this as a wonderful opportunity instead of another obligation to be dutifully checked off and forgotten. Even though it may not seem like it, this project may be more important and lasting than any word of Hebrew uttered on the bimah.

Why?

This project is something that can mirror and illuminate a child’s personality, interests, and passions. It can set the tone for a life of giving and tzedakah, or charity to others. As a cantor, I’ve had students who, years after their bar mitzvah, remember almost none of the material we learned. But now grown, they vividly remember with pride how they played basketball with under-privileged children one day a week after school.

The best way to decide upon a project is to find out what most interests the bar mitzvah student. Some kids decide to volunteer at an animal shelter (and later go on to become veterinarians). Others work with kids in after-school programs (and eventually pursue careers in education). Certain kids find they have a talent for fundraising (and are later destined to become temple presidents).

Kids today are also lucky to have access to something that we adults never did: social media. It’s fun and easy for a bar or bat mitzvah student to post information right on their Facebook page (and parents, now’s a good time to let them have one). Posts on a Facebook that link to a PayPal page can give friends and relatives the opportunity to make donations or other contributions to a charity the kid cares about. It also sets a wonderful example for future b’nei mitzvah kids and shows them what’s really important about the whole process.

This approach has another benefit as well: it lets the child be in control of his or her own mitzvah project. Back in the days BT (Before Twitter), parents would ask co-workers or friends to buy something or make a contribution for one of their children’s causes. That was always a little bit awkward. But now, parents can be left out completely while all the effort (and satisfaction) falls on the shoulders of the bar mitzvah student.

So think: what does a kid love to do? What makes them happy? There’s a community project for everyone out there. Share your passion with others and truly make your day all about the mitzvah.

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