To meet the requirements for my Bat-Mitzvah I had to complete a certain number of hours of community service. This is a very broad assignment because there are many people and organizations that need help. I ended up donating my time to help the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition, the Hudson Guild after school program in the Chelsea Housing Projects, participated in a rally to help the victims of genocide in Darfur Africa and I always donate my old clothes and toys to the Salvation Army. I completed more than twice the amount of hours required and learned about the different organizations I donated my time and energy to.
I hadn’t had much experience with an official community service assignment before starting my bat mitzvah preparation. I expected to help those in need, be surprised with new experiences, and have fun.
The first place I volunteered was the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition, (BARC) – a shelter for cats and dogs. I volunteered there with my friend Kyra from KidSchool. Before we went to the shelter, Kyra, her mom (Ilana) and I read the list of rules the animal shelter had for volunteers under eighteen. We got worried because their expectations were surprisingly strict. It seemed as though Kyra and I would not be allowed to help out at all. We were determined to help at BARC though, so we stuck with our plans to go. When we got there, we discovered we could do much more than we thought. The first thing we did was walk a Pug named Alfred.
Once we were done walking Alfred we made our way up to the cat loft. The cat loft was overcrowded with cats. There were too many cats for the amount of cages so we found on the floor, on the walls and in people’s hair! Kyra and I were told to care for the cats by playing with them. I fell in love with two really cute kittens named Sugar Ray and Gamma Ray who could fit in the palms of my hands. When we were no longer needed in the cat loft we returned to help with the dogs. I am proud of the volunteer work I did at BARC – I cared for animals, and I assisted all the employees by doing so.
The Hudson Guild is a social service agency that provides a range of programs for all age groups and is located in the Elliott Chelsea Housing Projects. One of their services is an after school program that offers homework help, arts, and physical activity for grades k-5. I volunteered in this program by helping first graders with art and HW and by assisting the teachers every Wednesday after school for one hour a week during the Spring of 2006, when I was in 7th grade.
Before I started volunteering at Hudson Guild, the possibility that I may not be accepted in it’s neighborhood was confirmed by my good friend Jadira who lives across the street from Hudson Guild. We agreed that residents would first notice that my gait and clothing was different from most of theirs, and that I didn’t share the same race with practically any of them. Once they noticed this, they would realize that I was not a familiar face in their neighborhood. This may cause suspicion, and a very awkward environment as I walked by. Jadira’s and my expectations came to life when for the first bunch of times I went to Hudson Guild, heads turned, and people even pointed at me. However, as I went on it got easier, and people who hung out around the after school program acknowledged me as just another person. They stopped pointing and giving me wary looks.
Every time I arrived at Hudson Guild, I got to know the kids better, and they got to know me better. After a few weeks, the kids warmly greeted me very time I came. This made me feel good because it showed me that I was making a difference through my community service.
Last summer at Camp Na’aleh, in Shahola Pennsylvania, my group- Tzofim ’06, created informational packets, petitions, signs and buttons referring to the genocide happening in Darfur, Africa. We went to a town near camp where we organized a rally. Through the rally, we informed people about the genocide in Darfur and many people signed our petition to President Bush asking him to help these victims.
I didn’t expect that during the rally I would be questioned about the meaning of genocide or the genocide happening in Darfur. I was very surprised that so many people were not aware of these two things. After the rally I was very happy with the work Tzofim had done because of the number of signatures we had collected. But, I was even more proud of the impact we had made on so many people by educating them.
Donating to the Salvation Army is something my whole family has always done. My mom is very good at “getting rid of the old and making room for the new” so she motivates the clearing out of our apartment and country house. By donating to the Salvation Army my family hopes to help those in need.
My community service has taught me about the concepts of Tzedakah – charity. Rabbi Maimonides, who lived in the 12th Century, wrote about Tzedakah and established 8 levels of giving. From the lowest level of giving, when a person gives but gives unwillingly, to the highest form of giving when a person helps the poor to establish themselves independently, allowing them to leave their poverty behind.
My community service fell into the higher categories of Maimonides’ hierarchy because I gave willingly and I helped people help themselves. Maimonides’ Hierarchy, of course, can not account for each individual’s situation and because of this, I have learned that we should not judge people’s giving only on lists but on who they are what they are going through. Sometimes people are on timetables, have school work, or plan to give later on.
Overall I learned a lot about helping in my community and I am glad I did because I feel accomplished in contributing to the moving forward in the lives of many different people. I now know that I can help out anywhere I set my mind to, and I certainly will be doing so in the future…
My first step is donating a portion of my bat mitzvah money to an organization whose cause I believe in. COEJL is where I have decided to give. Please check out their website- http://www.COEJL.org, and although they are a Jewish organization, they are willing to help anyone in taking good care of our environment and going green.