Preparing to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah requires a great deal of hard work. Learning the Torah portion, the blessings, the Haftarah, and the prayers necessary to lead the service takes time and commitment. Another very important aspect in this passage from childhood into adulthood is the Mitzvah Project. Our goal is to help make sure the journey to your celebratory day is both inspiring and meaningful.
As our children prepare to take adult roles in the Jewish community, we want them not only to learn to meet religious obligations, but also to take on the responsibilities we have towards God and our fellow human beings. For this reason, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience at THS requires students to fulfill the mitzvot of tzedakah and G’milut Chasadim , making charitable donations and undertaking charitable activities through their active participation in a physical project.
Every Bar/Bat Mitzvah is required to undertake a project that benefits a worthy cause and to devote at least four hours to carrying it out.
The mitzvah project, may begin up to 18 months prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but must begin at least 12 months in advance. It should be completed by the time of the ceremony.
Need help figuring out a good project? Want to know what other B’nai Mitzvah have done for their projects? Check out our on-line Mitzvah Project Database by clicking the button below!
What is a Mitzvah Project and why do we do them?
Many of us think of mitzvot (the plural of mitzvah ) as good deeds, and indeed, mitzvot are good deeds but they are more than this, too. A mitzvah is an action commanded by God. According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 mitzvot found in the Torah.
The Rabbis of the Talmud taught that the world stands upon three broad categories of mitzvot: Torah (study), Avodah (worship), and G’milut Chasadim (loving deeds). As our students prepare for bar/bat mitzvah they engage in many mitzvot related to Torah and Avodah.
The Mitzvah Project is designed to help our students engage in G’milut Chasadim. We believe that all Jews are responsible for making our world better, and we want our students to engage in this important work. We want them to use the talents and skills with which they have been blessed to make a positive difference in the world!
When is my Mitzvah Project due?
There is no specific due date for your Mitzvah Project. All projects should be started before you have become a Bat/Bar Mitzvah, but it can be ongoing. Ideally, you should begin thinking about your Mitzvah Project at the beginning of 6th grade. By working on your Mitzvah Project in 6th grade, the pressure during your actual Bat/Bar Mitzvah year is less. Hopefully you will become so engaged in your chosen project (s), that you will wish to continue after you have become a Bat/Bar Mitzvah. You don’t need to have the most original Mitzvah Project. Rather, a successful project is one that allows you to meaningfully engage in the work of repairing the world. Participation in an individual or group of tzedakah project(s) of at least 4 hours is a requirement of celebrating Bat/Bar Mitzvah. All projects must be approved by the Rabbi.
When you have completed a mitzvah project(s), you will be asked to share your experience at your Bat/Bar Mitzvah, as well as in writing to be included in a booklet for future B’nai Mitzvah students. If applicable, you should include a brochure, and/or publication of the organization, an explanation of why you chose the organization, pictures of your project, and the result of your efforts and/or donations you may have made. In your Bar/Bat Mitzvah D’var Torah (speech), tell us about why this is an important organization and how you felt about your participation in this project. You can even make a poster and have it displayed at the entrance of the sanctuary before your service.
Click the button below to download copies of both forms you’ll need for your project!
Tips and Suggestions for Projects
• Participate in the work of the Social Action or Caring Committees: THS plans a variety of programs and drives throughout the year and could use your help.
• Research, collect, and donate needed goods: Many organizations have specific needs (for toys, school supplies, sporting equipment, etc.), which you can help them obtain for your Mitzvah Project. Don’t just assume that what you want to collect will be needed. First, make contact with a community organization and ask them what they need. Then, set about collecting, sorting, and delivering these goods. You might ask people in your neighborhood for donations, ask guests to bring them to your bar/bat mitzvah celebration, or use them for centerpieces. This collection can be done from your own home. If you would like to set out collection boxes at the Temple, you must first submit a completed Mitzvah Project Form to Rabbi Musnitsky (see the link above to download). Once approved, the assistant to the clergy will contact you to ensure that the information is correct for the weekly email blasts, including when the actual collection will take place. The email ad will run for two (2) weeks, during which time your bins will be in the foyer/atrium. You must supply the bins, empty regularly over your 2 week period when they are in the atrium, collect them when your collection is up, and deliver the collected goods.
• Donate, raise money and teach others about a well-researched Tzedakah Project: Research a Jewish, Israeli, environmental, anti-poverty, health-related, civil/women’s/gay and lesbian rights organization, or other organization that you feel is worthy of tzedakah (righteous giving, or money for charity). Write a page about it, explaining its importance. You can get the names of organizations by calling the Jewish Federation of Somerset County or Central New Jersey, by looking at the web pages of various foundations, or by asking the Rabbis or Cantor for suggestions to help you get started. Raise money by initiating and implementing a fund raising event involving your neighborhood/sports team/family/friends. Please do not ask for money at Temple, as we want to avoid repeatedly soliciting the same students.
• Volunteer at a senior center. If you know magic tricks, other card games, dominoes, how to play a musical instrument, or have another special talent, share it with a senior center. Take pictures and make a display of your time together.
• Participate in an environmental protection project through the New Jersey Department of Education, Greenfaith, or another organization. Pick a project and get involved!
• Twin with an Ethiopian immigrant in Israel through the twinning program of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ). By joining the program, you’ll make a gift to your twin’s class in Israel. These gifts help not only your twin, but also other Ethiopian boys and girls who immigrated to Israel. Your gift will also help provide a group bar/bat mitzvah celebration. For information, call (212) 233-5200.
• Raise money and join a “walk” for a worthy cause such as AIDS research, breast cancer research, or autism awareness. Many charities raise money this way. We have a group here that participates in the Susan G. Komen Walk every year.
• Design your own mitzvah project. Put your talents and creative energies to work on an issue that is important to you.
Other ways to incorporate mitzvot into your celebration
You could package leftover food to be donated to those in need. You can arrange to drop food off at the Market Street Mission in Morristown – (973) 538-0431. Please call first to find out their requirements and donation hours.
Contact Jewish Family Services of Somerset County at (908) 725-7799 to make the bimah look beautiful and support a charitable organization.
• Make baskets of canned or boxed food to donate to a local food pantry, such as the Bound Brook Food Pantry or the Community Food Bank of New Jersey ( www.njfoodbank.org ).
• Make arrangements of books, video tapes, CDs, stuffed animals, sports equipment, etc. to be distributed to a worthy organization. (Be sure to confirm that there is a community organization that needs the items you are considering using in your centerpieces before you assemble them!).
• If you go the route of flowers or plants, donate centerpieces to hospitals, senior centers or other organizations to brighten someone’s day.
• Plant a tree for each guest through the Jewish National Fund and put a certificate at the table at www.jnf.org.
Purchase unique and exquisite JNF invitations or certificates. These can be customized to use as invitations, favors, table signs and for candle-lighting ceremonies. Each invitation or certificate represents a tree that has been planted in Israel or a donation to water resource development in Israel in honor of your guests. www.jnf.org .
Strongly consider giving 10% of the money you receive to tzedakah. This is in keeping with Jewish tradition, which teaches that 10-20% of a person’s income belongs to tzedakah. Yes, this is a startlingly large amount to us; yet the needs in the world are so very great – from our local communities, to the Jewish community, to impoverished people around the world.
Jewish tradition has many teachings about how we give tzedakah. What is most important is that it is to be given in a way that is dignified – to both giver and recipient – and to causes that have a real impact on the world. This is an opportunity for b’nai mitzvah students and parents to sit down together and determine where and how tzedakah monies can best be used. It is an opportunity to make real the commitment to Torah, worship and mitzvot that is expressed at the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony.
Our Mitzvah Madness section has been adapted from a project by Rabbi Leah Doberne-Schor of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ.
We offer our deepest gratitude to our Temple Har Shalom members Karen Feuer, Jeanne Rothenberg and Gail Pester for their many hours of research and compilation of all materials combined in this section. They will continue to direct our Mitzvah Madness.