June 24, 2009
How to Choose a Mitzvah Project
Before you jump into the process of choosing a mitzvah project, consider the following question: Why are we asking our b’nai mitzvah students to complete 10 hours of service work in the midst of an otherwise overprogrammed, stressful time in their lives?
If you can remember the “why” (as in, “why do you have to do this?”) as you consider the “what” (“what should you choose?”), you may find the process of choosing to be as instructive and transformative as the project itself.
Mitzvah projects help us to express gratitude.
Mitzvah projects teach us how to live words of the Torah.
Homework assignment No. 1: Practice answering the question “Why?” using your own words and examples.
And don’t tell me about the war if that’s not really what keeps you up. Don’t tell me about gun control if you’re really thinking about the homeless man you see every day on your way to school. Tell me about the racial divide in the lunchroom. Tell me how girls are treated differently around the world and here in Los Angeles, even in 2009.
Twelve- and 13-year-olds are perceptive and opinionated. Help them to identify what they see as broken. Where do they see it? How does it affect them? They will work harder if they see a connection between their lives and their concerns, local or global. They will be more committed, collaborative and creative if the work will change their lives.
Choosing a mitzvah project can open up a conversation about pain, loss, fear and uncertainty. (Welcome to the world of adulthood.) Create the space to listen and, if appropriate, to share your own story. See what you have in common.
Homework assignment No. 2: Ask your bar/bat mitzvah student, “What keeps you up at night?”
MAKING THE CHOICE
Once you’ve examined the project, then make your decision: Is this the best project for me to complete at this time? If the answer is yes, you’re ready to begin. If not, try again. Remember, the process of choosing can be as valuable and instructive as the project itself.
The bar/bat mitzvah is a rite of passage. It’s supposed to be difficult. The mitzvah project can be a bake sale with some fliers, or it can be part of the process that transforms a young adult into a Jewish leader.
Your child/student has a story to tell: a story about who they are, what they see and how they might become part of a local or global effort that brings about change. Partner with them. Talk to them. Challenge them. And help them arrive to the pulpit, and someday to the voting booth or city council meeting or national conference in Washington, D.C., with a vision of peace, justice and compassion, as well as the confidence to take the first step. n
Dara FrimmerAssistant RabbiTemple Isaiah (templeisaiah.com)A Reform congregationin Los Angeles.