In 2005, the JUF Tween department decided to highlight the mitzvah project from my bat mitzvah. Nearly 12 years later, I work for the same department at JUF, running teen volunteering programs and helping families find their own mitzvah projects. For my bat mitzvah, I collected 1,000 books to send to a small, developing town in Israel. These books were used to kick off an English language library in one of the local junior high schools. It was a worthwhile and meaningful project, but not one I would recommend to anyone else.
Looking back, some of the most helpful advice I give out to families was taken from my own project -- mostly, what not to do.
Here's how not to create a b'nai mitzvah project:
DON'T ship a collection to Israel
It is extremely expensive to ship items to Israel (often more than the value of items being sent). According to my mother, each box of books cost more than $50 to ship! Once in Israel they are processed through customs, often incurring a duty fee or tariff. Customs is located near the Ben-Gurion airport, which means the organizations must send a staff person and often must pay a significant fee to pick up the items.
DO your research
There are so many ways to support Israel through a b'nai mitzvah project, and I recommend raising money to support an organization that you care about. If you want to do a collection drive, think locally! There are so many wonderful organizations in Chicago that would be happy to take your books, sports equipment, canned goods, or other collected or crafted items.
DON'T be a hassle
My mitzvah project was a family affair. While I sorted books and packed boxes, my parents schlepped the books, boxes, and myself around Chicago. They deposited checks, and covered shipping fees when monetary donations slowed. In the end, my parents had generously worked as many hours as I had on the project.
DO thank your team
The old saying goes, "the more the merrier," and that goes especially for tikkun olam (repairing the world). Your mitzvah project can bring your community together for volunteering, collecting, or fundraising, and the people in your life can be incredible resources to help you and your project succeed. Explain to them why this particular project or organization is important to you, and make sure to show your gratitude for the time and energy they put in to help you complete your project. Don't forget to thank them often!
DON'T get overwhelmed
I collected over 1,000 books to send to Israel, but I worried about my project constantly. I spent more time concerned about reaching my goal then I did preparing for my bat mitzvah, and I lost sight of the reason for performing a mitzvah project in the first place. Though I eventually met my goal, I was no longer having any fun.
DO your best
Your b'nai mitzvah project should be a lot of fun. Think big and set goals for yourself, but make sure you enjoy yourself. Part of becoming a Jewish adult is taking on responsibility, and your tikkun olam project is a great way of showing you understand that. Make the most of your experience, and know that finishing one mitzvah project will lead you to the next.
We want to help you plan an amazing b'nai mitzvah project! Check out
JUF's B'nai Mitzvah Tikkun Olam Manual
to simplify the mitzvah project process and to create a lasting love of volunteering and tikkun olam. The guide has over 100 ways for your teen to make a difference for their b'nai mitzvah. And keep a lookout for a new and improved version of the manual this fall!
Ariel Rosen is senior associate for Teen Volunteering and Engagement at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.