About 70 area teens and preteens chose to spend a recent Sunday afternoon “repairing the world.”
They were not alone; more than 11,000 Jewish teens took part in J-Serve, the International Day of Jewish Youth Service, in communities around the globe. Sponsored this year in partnership with Repair the World, Youth Service America, and BBYO, as well as the Areyvut National Mitzvah Day, the annual event brings youth together to perform mitzvot and acts of tzedaka to “give back” in their communities.
The youngsters, drawn from throughout Mercer and Bucks counties, came together at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville and Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor. The program was organized by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, an agency of Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks.
At the synagogues, the teens spent time on several different projects: assembling Passover care packages for seniors; wrapping utensils for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK); tying blankets for Ronald McDonald House, which houses families with seriously ill children being treated in local hospitals; and making placemats and packing breakfast bags for the JFCS’s Kosher Cafes and meals-on-wheels for seniors. Other students baked muffins for the breakfast bags or made tuna casseroles and baked ziti for TASK.
One of the activities at Adath Israel involved inserting rattles into stuffed animals and then sewing up the opening, to create a “spay and neuter scar,” for Glad Dogs Nation, which works to reduce pet overpopulation. At Beth El, the J-Serve teens made craft kits for hospitalized children, to be given to Chai Lifeline, which offers assistance to families living with pediatric illness or loss. Also at Beth El, high school teens mentored young members of a pre-Kadima group, helping them with projects and talking to them about becoming Jewish leaders.
Two years ago the only local J-Serve volunteers were members of the JFCS’s Jewish Community Youth Foundation. In 2015 the one-and-a-half-hour program was opened to all Jewish students in sixth-12th grade in Mercer and Bucks counties. This year, the program took place in two synagogues to make it more accessible and was extended to two hours.
The participants at Adath Israel and Beth El came from public middle and high schools and Jewish day schools, largely from Mercer and Bucks counties, but reaching as far as New York and West Orange to the north and Fairless Hills, Pa., to the west.
Emma Shainwald, a senior at Princeton Day School, contrasted J-Serve and the get-together for JCYF — of which she is a youth advisory board member — when students research and make decisions about charitable donations. Doing the hands-on activities at J-Serve, she told NJJN, “forms more empathy and a connection to actually being part of something physical rather than just sending money.”
Jacob Guba, an eighth-grader from Doylestown, Pa., and a member of Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in Richboro, Pa., said, “I believe that if you do something positive for the community, it gives a great positive attitude.… You feel this pride that you are helping and want to do more. People who receive it will feel happy and pass on the happiness to others.”
Lawrenceville resident and JCYF board member Max Miller, a sophomore at Princeton Day School, said about his participation in J-Serve, “I came because it is part of my commitment to being on the JCYF youth advisory board — and part of that commitment is to make a difference in the community.”
The program ended with participants choosing from among seven quotes, most from Jewish sources, and then sharing the reasons for their choice. One student interpreted “Acts of kindness are among those things that have no limits,” a quote from Mishneh Peah 1, as meaning “No matter what situation you’re in, you can do something kind for someone.”