The following essay on community service was written by Julian Keifetz, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; they also perform 13 hours of community service, and write about it. An example of this component can be seen below. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as their self confidence and overall maturity.
I’ve always loved animals and nature, so I was happy to find community service activities that combined both.
The first thing I did was participate in the New York City Beach Cleanup Day at Broad Channel Beach, which is in Queens across from JFK Airport. Before the cleanup, I thought it would be a very rewarding experience because we were going to help clean up a beach so it could be habitable by plants and animals and enjoyed by people. I had never done anything like this before.
Jessica, my mentor’s wife, and her mentee Hava came along too. The New York City Audubon Society ran a free bus from Chelsea to and from Broad Channel Beach. The trip lasted about 40 minutes and when we arrived and got off the bus, we were given gloves and a clipboard. We were asked to record what items we found, and the quantity of each item. We then headed down to the beach, which was only about a half a mile long, but very, very dirty.
When we got down to the beach, we met an old man who visits Broad Channel Beach everyday to clean up the assorted garbage left behind. The biggest source of garbage on the beach was plastic bags and cigarette butts, followed by items left by members of a local Hindu temple. The Hindu group often visits the beach to do various religious rituals—including sacrificing live chickens! This sounds crazy – but it’s true. I found three headless chickens floating on the shore. I picked up two and Mike picked up the third one (we were wearing gloves). We also found plastic and ceramic figurines of Ganesha the elephant god and many candlestick and incense holders. We found flags with pictures of deities, long fabrics of different colors, and many lemons and limes. The old man explained that the Hindus leave these behind as an offering to the gods. After about six hours of picking up assorted items (with a long break for lunch!), the beach actually looked a lot cleaner. In addition to the religious items, we picked up dozens of plastic bags, cigarette butts, plastic food containers, straws, lighters and other small plastic things.
It was a very rewarding experience, but the items left on the beach by the local Hindu temple created a bad impression. While I think the Hindus in Broad Channel should be allowed to practice their religion, I wish they would not disrupt the eco-system of the beach to do so.
For the remaining hours of my community service, I went to an animal shelter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with my mother called BARC. This stands for Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition. They take in abandoned and abused animals. The dogs at BARC have to be in cages for most of the day, so the staff needs volunteers to take the dogs out for hour-long walks. This is important for the dogs’ physical and mental health.
Having a dog of my own, I feel bad that the BARC dogs don’t have a good life. It felt great being able to help them. The first dog I walked was named Jumanji. She was little and white and may have been a mix of Terrier and Bichon Frise. The second dog I walked was named Roger, and there was a very happy moment at the end of his walk.
As we approached BARC to return Roger, a woman was waiting outside who had came to adopt him. She said it was the third time she had visited him and that Roger was going to live with her mother. Roger was such a sweet dog, a very cute tiny mutt, and I was very glad to know that he would get the life he deserved.
I’d never done community service before and it was a rewarding experience. The most memorable moment of the beach clean-up was right before we got back on the bus to go home and the entire clean-up group took a photo together. The beach was so clean and it was a group effort that was made possible by everyone in the picture. The dog walking was very meaningful because I love dogs and I got to provide them with the care they deserve.
As a final act of community (K’hee-la), I’ve chosen to donate a portion of my Bar Mitzvah gift money to the Make a Wish Foundation which grants wishes to kids with life-threatening medical conditions. I like helping animals and the environment, but people are important too!