Meaningful Mitzvah Projects: Inspiring your Child

Charity gift basket
Lucy (Andy's daughter) put together these lovely charity gift baskets as part of her mitzvah project.

What social action projects has your child planned or done? What might inspire them to act to help heal the world?

Over the last 20 years or so, it has become common for bar and bat mitzvah tweens to engage in a social or environmental action project as part of their learning experience. In fact, many synagogues require young folks to do so as part of the preparation for the bar/bat mitzvah celebrations.

Reflecting on the benefits of such projects, the writer Marjorie Ingall comments:

The intent is lovely: Teach kids about the responsibilities of Jewish adulthood, encourage the values of tikkun olam (healing/mending the world) and giving back, raise funds for good causes, and be so awesome that you don’t even need Ne-Yo in your bar mitzvah video (“Doing Mitzvah Projects Right,” Tablet Magazine, 3/13/2013).

But as Ingall points out, it is crucial for parents and educators to work closely with young people when choosing and crafting these projects (moving from “intent” to “execution” ).

Please share this with your bar/bat mitzvah child:
When thinking about your mitzvah project:
(based on the work of Naomi Eisenberger and the Ziv Tzedakah Fund):

  • What is one issue or that you care about? Why?
  • What talents or skills do you possess that you can apply to this cause?
  • Who can help you address this issue meaningfully?
  • What are 2-3 goals you want to accomplish through this mitzvah project?

In writing about the challenges and opportunities of the mitzvah project, Ingall adds the following points for our consideration:

  • Encourage your child or student to use the year preparing for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah AND committing to their mitzvah project. How can s/he make this happen?
  • If your bar/bat mitzvah is working with an organization, have him/her speak to representatives to understand how it works and how to be most helpful.
  • Explore how this project relates to key values and teachings from Judaism and other sources of wisdom.

As the great Jewish theologian and activist, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated repeatedly, “To be is to stand for.” As our tweens prepare to enter Jewish adulthood, taking on a mitzvah project can help them determine what they “stand for” and how to make a difference in the world.

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