After years of study, months of planning, weeks of preparation and days of bouts with butterflies, a child ascends the bimah and makes a grand entrance into the Jewish community as a full-fledged member. It's a proud moment. It's a personal accomplishment. But more importantly, it's an affirmation that a young Jewish woman or man has made a commitment to lead a mitzvah-oriented life.
Proud moment? Sure. But so is beating the buzzer with the winning three-pointer for your basketball team.
Personal accomplishment? Sure. But so is acing a tough math exam.
While the last two achievements are praiseworthy, the inner glow you get from them quickly dissipates. Before you know it, a math exam will come along that you or even Einstein couldn't ace. Your team will count on you to shoot from outside the paint, and it just bounces off the rim. Glory usually has a hidden expiration date.
But the time of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah can be a gateway to a lifetime of good feelings. Although you might not get your photo in the school newspaper for being the "Most Valuable Player" or for leading the math team on to an international victory, performing mitzvot really warms the heart -- and the feeling goes on and on.
We give to worthy causes to assist those in need, to pursue virtuous ideals and to right the wrongs that take place every day. And by choosing to show our support for organizations that are helping Israel -- especially the younger generation -- our children will realize that the good feelings will keep on coming.
All of us, no matter what age, need certain things to keep us going. Adequate nutrition, a safe home and surroundings, a stimulating atmosphere for study and growth and a sense of belonging are paramount for kids in Israel, these things that we often take for granted are sometimes hard to come by there.
Since the following organizations address these needs, they are definitely worth considering for a mitzvah project. And even if you've already adopted a cause or completed a project, by learning a little about the wonderful charitable work that the following groups are doing, maybe you'll decide to multiply those good feelings and include one group in your celebration:
Pups for Peace
Lassie saved Timmy, his family and friends dozens of times on TV. Yukon King and Rin Tin Tin were always at the ready to rescue people. That was fiction. The devoted dogs and their handlers of Pups for Peace (PFP) are for real. Trained to sniff out explosives and look for trouble before it turns to tragedy, these teams of man and his best friend check out the streets, stores and bus stations of Israel, places that have become prime targets of terrorists.
Founded and originally based in Los Angeles in 2002, this program was initiated in response to the Passover massacre in Netanya earlier that year. Training and day-to-day operations have been moved to Israel. However, funding for this life-saving endeavor rests in our hands.
Irit Weisel, administrator at Pups for Peace, offers these suggestions for how you can get involved: "B'nai mitzvah are doing all kinds of innovative activities to raise money -- walking dogs, washing cars, sending e-mail letters to friends and family asking for donations, sending their bar/bat mitzvah invitations asking their invitees to donate to PFP."
For more information, visit pupsforpeace.org or call 800-669-8930.
Israel has a sizable, poverty-stricken population. For a number of economic reasons, things will not be getting better in the foreseeable future. Hazon Yeshaya is a humanitarian organization that runs soup kitchens for the hungry, serves nutritious meals to disadvantaged children in school, provides clothing for the poor and gives special food packages to families in need so that they can experience the joys of celebrating festivals like Passover with dignity. And they have a b'nai mitzvah program for children who come from difficult circumstances.
"Some are victims of abuse, some are orphans, some are severely impoverished," said Yehoshua Halevi, Hazon Yeshaya's director of development and public relations.
"Each affair brings up to 80 children to Jerusalem for an authentic 'coming of age' celebration, something that their families are not able to provide them. Each group bar/bat mitzvah that we sponsor features a ceremony at the Kotel and a festive luncheon following the prayer service and reading of the Torah. Each child receives a special gift from Hazon Yeshaya, and the boys also receive a set of tefillin."
Kids need to be fed and clothed. Kids need to feel safe. Kids also need to know that they have a promising future. And in Israel, having a good grasp of the English language is vital.
"Only 40 percent of Israeli children pass the all-important English matriculation, which provides entrance privileges to higher education. Without that diploma, the children will be doomed to a cycle of poverty. A.H.A.V.A. is dedicated to training teachers in innovative methods and providing for those students who otherwise would not be able to afford the extra English lessons necessary to pass those crucial exams," said its director Gaila Cohen Morrison. She said scholarship money is the most pressing need.
"Cash contributions are the best because it enables us to acquire our specific needs and to cover our biggest cost -- teachers' salaries," Morrison said. "However, we do still have a need for certain textbooks and workbooks.
Visit the Web sites with your child. The short time you spend looking at the photos and reading about some of the problems that Israeli youth must deal with will remind you that we really have it made in America. It should convince you to do something special for yourselves -- perform another mitzvah or two and know that you made a difference. That will really feel good.
-- Pearl Salkin is a freelance writer living in Daytona Beach, Fla.
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