MORE THAN 300 sixth-graders from 21 area synagogues convened at the Aidekman campus in Whippany Jan. 26 to survey dozens of potential mitzva projects they can take on as they approach their bar/bat mitzva year.
Mitzvot of Greater MetroWest — conducted by the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the identity-building organization of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and JTeen MW, the Jewish Teen Educational Experiences Network — has been connecting local youth and their families with organizations in the community and in Israel that offer service learning projects and volunteer opportunities.
This year, 30 groups took part in the event. Among the Jewish organizations represented were National Council of Jewish Women, NJ Y Camps, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, the Friendship Circle, Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest NJ, and American Friends of Leket Israel. Other organizations offering mitzva projects were the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter, Bark for Life/American Cancer Society, SNAP-Special Needs Athletic & Advocacy Programs, Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey, Greater Newark Conservancy, and the Interfaith Food Pantry.
Teen volunteer Alison Wolf represented the Jewish Relief Agency at the event. She learned about the organization at last year’s Mitzvot of Greater MetroWest and took on a JRA effort as her bat mitzva project. With money she raised running a lemonade stand and baby-sitting, she was able to provide food for a family for one year.
Alison spoke to this year’s participants about her experience packing and delivering food to those in need. She continues to volunteer for the organization with her entire family and told the young people visiting her table, “I fell in love with the program and the people…. I definitely recommend it.”
Student Jacob Sussman of Mount Olive said he enjoyed learning about the many different kinds of projects and organizations available; “there are a lot of things I can do to help,” he said.
Shaina Goldberg, the Partnership’s Jewish service learning coordinator, said many of the parents at the event told her that their children’s reaction was one of disappointment at having to choose “just one mitzva project.”
“That was exactly the response we were looking for,” Goldberg said. “We wanted the students to be excited about the many service projects available to them in the Greater MetroWest community.”
Ezra Berenholz from Boys Town Jerusalem manned a booth at the fair and sent Goldberg an e-mail thanking her for the opportunity. “I met so many wonderful kids and parents, and it was great to speak to them and hear their excitement in choosing a volunteer mitzva project,” he wrote.
Tracy Levine, manager of the Partnership’s One Happy Camper NJ, said the event was “wonderful” as she shared “the wide spectrum of Jewish overnight camps and teen programs that offer an incredible way for b’nei mitzva students to joyfully experience and connect with Judaism at this pivotal time in their lives.” She added that she enjoyed “prompting ideas among seasoned campers about potential mitzva projects that tie into their camp experience.”