It was a good idea to have lots of dollar bills as you walked the halls of University Synagogue’s annual Mitzvah Mall on December 7. One could donate to a myriad of worthy causes as well as purchase some great baked goods.
For their b’nai mitzvah, young people must have a mitzvah project as part of the requirement for becoming a b’nai mitzvah. This applies to both Orthodox and liberal congregations. Some students may research one of 613 mitzvot in depth, while others may be involved in projects aimed at helping others. This encourages students in the Jewish tradition of chessed, (kindness), as well as expanding his or her understanding of tzedakah.
Every year, at University Synagogue, the students prepare exhibits of their projects which are displayed in the hall of the religious school – projects that range from “Stand UP for Kids” to “Operation Gratitude” aimed at raising funds for wounded warriors. This year, almost thirty students stood proudly by their displays anxious to share what their causes were and why they had chosen them.
Zach Stern discovered that there were 30,542 homeless youth in Orange County. “I always saw homeless adults,” he said, “and I wondered about their kids.” He did the research and was so moved that he decided not only to donate a substantial amount of his own money, but to continue raising money for the youngsters.
“I always dreamt about what I would do as an adult,” said Rachel Oleski. When she learned about the “Make-A-Wish Foundation” she realized that there were some children who will never grow up to realize their dreams. She has been spending her time educating her peers about, and raising money for, the “Make-A-wish Foundation.”
Sam Hurwitz and Benjamin Lederman both volunteer at the “Friendship Circle” in Newport Beach that provides companionship for autistic and special needs children. Max Rogoff suffers from severe peanut and tree nut allergies and became very active in FARE – “Food Allergy Research and Education.” He is now part of the National Advisory group of FARE, and presented at the Teen Summit in Washington D.C.
His interest in military history aroused Benjamin Klarin’s concern for the plight of wounded veterans. His project, Operation Gratitude not only raises money for Wounded Warriors Project, but invites people to write letters to the vets.
“As a girl,” said Jovan Sheldon, “I have always had a specific interest in breast cancer awareness;” her brother Joshua is focused on providing clothing and food for the homeless.
These mitzvah projects provide deeper Jewish meaning to Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, and make these special occasions even more rewarding to these young people. Α
Florence L. Dann, a fourth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.