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Teens have a mania for mitzvot

Teens have a mania for mitzvot

Members of the Steindler family, from left, Kelly and her daughters, Jessica and Romana, with Sandy at Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey’s Horizon School on Aug. 9.
Members of the Steindler family, from left, Kelly and her daughters, Jessica and Romana, with Sandy at Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey’s Horizon School on Aug. 9.

Increasing mitzvot in number and frequency, Mitzvah Mania once again sent young people throughout the community to do good works.

Created last summer in response to a request by synagogue educators for local teen volunteer endeavors, the Jewish Service Learning program this year was expanded — offering 25 teens (double last year’s number) the opportunity for daily service and learning opportunities in conjunction with 13 organizations. The program, sponsored by the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, an agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, took place every day Aug. 9-19 instead of, as last year, once a week for four weeks.

The teens were able to choose volunteer assignments that accommodated their schedules, making it a flexible option for those working at camps or other summer jobs. Among the places the teens did service were the JCC MetroWest Senior Department, Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey’s Horizon School in Livingston, Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest in East Orange, and the WAE (Wellness, Arts & Enrichment) Center, a project of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, in West Orange.

Karen Fich, a freshman at Millburn High School, said she enjoyed participating in Mitzvah Mania, “particularly volunteering with senior citizens. It was a great opportunity to make a difference in my community.”

A key aspect of the program for her sister, Melissa, “was learning about the organizations we were involved with” — like SOS (Smile on Seniors), which links elderly community members with volunteers, and Home Front Hearts, a New Brunswick-based organization that serves families of military service members overseas. “I hope to volunteer with these organizations again during the year,” said the Millburn High School senior.

Evan Cassak, a high school junior from Chatham, conducted English-language classes for immigrants at the JVS. “Helping people learn English for the first time was fun, and reaching out made me feel good.”

Evan’s mother, Nancy Yacker, was among the parents who were gratified that the program was available for their teens. “Adults are used to writing checks; that’s fine and necessary, but impersonal,” she said. “I think it was great that my son was exposed to several venues where a simple donation of time and willingness could make a difference to someone.”

According to JSL coordinator Michal Greenbaum, “Mitzvah Mania brings Jewish learning to life for local teens by providing them opportunities to volunteer at a variety of organizations and learn how they can make a difference.”

Greenbaum is available throughout the year to help connect teens and/or teen groups with Jewish Service Learning opportunities; she can be reached at or 973-929-2966.

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