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February 14, 2011

She’s writing the book on Bat Mitzvah projects

http://www.jewishjournal.com/tribe/article/shes_writing_the_book_on_bat_mitzvah_projects_20110214

When not working on her Bat Mitzvah project, Alexandra Kukoff can be found updating her book-review blog at TheBookBeat.org. Photo by Rob Varela / Ventura County Star.

When not working on her Bat Mitzvah project, Alexandra Kukoff can be found updating her book-review blog at TheBookBeat.org. Photo by Rob Varela / Ventura County Star.

Alexandra Kukoff was recently given a chance to share her outlook on life during her bat mitzvah meeting at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks. Had her outlook seemed a little jaded, few would have blamed her: She is deaf in her left ear, missing three essential bones since birth. When prompted to speak about her struggle, Alexandra replied cheerfully, “It could have been worse — I could have been deaf in both ears.”

The optimistic 12-year-old refuses to let her hearing difficulty break her spirit; she pushes herself to excel in school and after-school endeavors, and her bat mitzvah project is no exception. When trying to decide on a single project, Alexandra saw too many potential choices before her.

“There were so many options I wanted to consider, like helping out homeless animals, volunteering in homeless shelters,” Alexandra explained. “So, when I was considering all this, I thought, ‘You can’t do everything,’ so I decided to write a book of all these ideas, called ‘A Jewish Girl’s Guide to a Bat Mitzvah Project.’ ”

In her book, Alexandra includes stories ranging from girls who recently had their bat mitzvahs to women who undertook meaningful projects more than 10 years ago. Alexandra found her subjects — with help from her family — primarily through e-mails and a Facebook page titled “The Jewish Girl’s Guide to a Bat Mitzvah.” Using her own list of eight questions for each girl or woman, Alexandra condenses the story of each bat mitzvah project into about one page. She hopes that the stories will inspire other girls approaching their coming-of-age, but, more importantly, that the project ideas will provide a strong call to action.

“This book is also written for girls who aren’t Jewish [or] aren’t having their bat mitzvah any time soon,” Alexandra said. “I’m still hoping that they’ll buy my book when it’s published, just so they can have an idea how to be active and help out.”

Alexandra has been able to gather several stories since last summer but is still on the lookout for approximately 90 more. She’s working to fill these blank pages quickly in order to publish her book by the time of her own Aug. 20 bat mitzvah. A publisher has already been lined up.

Even once the book is released, Alexandra’s project is still not done. She plans to donate all proceeds from the book to Nes Gadol, a bar and bat mitzvah program for special-needs children at Vista Del Mar in West Los Angeles. More specifically, Alexandra plans to use the money to pay for an as-yet-unchosen young lady’s bat mitzvah.

Despite Alexandra’s deep concern for the well-being of others, she believes that her partial hearing loss has actually made her stronger rather than more sensitive. She has had to find ways to communicate as effectively as possible with peers while trying not to appear rude or uninterested during a conversation.

“My hearing loss actually toughened me because it showed me that this isn’t the worst; life can get really worse — you need to pull through it,” she said.

When she’s not gathering stories for the guide, Alexandra loves to read (about five books a week), contribute to her book-review blog at TheBookBeat.org, practice the cello and participate in animal-welfare programs. Mostly, though, she’s focusing on fulfilling the necessary requirements for her upcoming bat mitzvah, and believes she has matured greatly over the past year in particular. She doesn’t see her upcoming bat mitzvah as a complete entry into adulthood, but as a major transition period.

“If there’s a river and on one side is childhood and on the other side is adulthood, a bat mitzvah is like the first stepping stone in the river,” Alexandra explained.

She also believes part of maturing during the time of a bat mitzvah involves changing passive thinking into action.

“Everyone dreams, but when you want something to happen, dreaming just isn’t enough. You have to get out there; you have to do something. What my bat mitzvah project really inspired me to do is to follow my reality and get rid of the dreams — make them real.” 

To submit a bat mitzvah project story to Alexandra for consideration in her book, e-mail her directly at akukoff@mac.com.

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