Over the years, b'nai mitzvah students have been encouraged more and more to select a cause, organization or project that they can support by donating community service hours, a portion of their gift money or both.
Indeed, most teachers and parents say that they definitely want children to recognize how fortunate they are, and that giving to the community or helping people in need is an integral part of the b'nai mitzvah learning process.
That point certainly was not lost on Danielle David.
Danielle, who became a bat mitzvah in January, was watching her favorite TV show, "Grey's Anatomy," when her mitzvah project began percolating in her mind. The episode that inspired Danielle involved Dr. Isobel "Izzie" Stevens, one of the interns, and her decision to donate money from an inheritance to cover the cost of a young girl's operation, a procedure that the girl's family could not afford and insurance would not cover.
"The 'Grey's Anatomy' show made me realize that I wanted to help someone who was ill, and I really wanted to know exactly how the money would be spent," Danielle said. "And then I decided that I wanted to make a difference in a child's life."
After careful consideration, Danielle selected the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles. Initially, Danielle pledged $1,000 to the foundation. But then she learned that the average cost to fulfill a child's wish is $7,500.
Through a program called Kids for Wish Kids, developed to help children and teenagers participate in philanthropy and increase awareness of children living with life-threatening medical conditions, student donors can gift $2,500 to fulfill an entire wish for a specific child. That was all Danielle needed to hear. She increased her pledge to $2,500.
According to Shelley Ginsburg, spokeswoman for Make-A-Wish Foundation's Los Angeles chapter, Danielle's gift touched the hearts of the entire staff.
"It was heartwarming for us to see a child who celebrated her transition into adulthood by thinking of children who are less fortunate," Ginsburg said.
According to Ginsburg, the foundation receives a handful of donations each year from b'nai mitzvah students. These contributions have included money from mitzvah projects like Danielle's gift, fundraising activities organized by the child and in-kind donations such as the table centerpieces they recently received -- baskets filled with toys, stuffed animals and educational books.
"We think it is a wonderful gesture," Ginsburg added, "and we hope that more children will consider granting a wish as part of their milestone."
While the idea of linking mitzvot to the occasion of the b'nai mitzvah is nothing new, many synagogues have embraced the concept of "mitzvah projects" with new enthusiasm. Projects often involve the synagogue and the community when a student embarks upon a fundraising effort or a collection drive for items that can be donated to a chosen organization.
Ami Berlin, director of synagogue and youth activities at Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, has worked with students for 15 years and has observed a definite increase in social consciousness and awareness.
"Mitzvah projects have become a bigger and more significant part of the curriculum over the years," Berlin said. "It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to do community service and participate in something that teaches them that there are people and organizations that need help in our own communities and all over the world."
According to Berlin, the best mitzvah projects are those in which the students educate themselves about the organization or service they have selected to help.
"Having a personal connection to the project gives the student a better understanding of how important their contribution is, and that connection can be the impetus for a young person to continue doing mitzvot well beyond their bar mitzvah years."
As for Danielle, she is looking forward to hearing back from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles to learn something about the child whose life she touched with her gift.
To contact Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, visit www.wishla.org or call (800) 322-9474.
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