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 seeking 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 100 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.

Posted 12:00 am, June 9, 2014
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