The following essay on community service was written by Caleb Klein, 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.
For my community service project, I opened a stand at my school’s Green Fair in April, and then again at my town’s local Farmer’s Market in June of 2013. The stand was for the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, or IOLR. This institute conducts research on oceans and lakes, and marine biology, to help save different species of plants and animals that live in those environments. I opened the stand mainly for the coral reefs that are dying out. If the coral reefs do completely die out, then the fish and other marine life will have nowhere to live. Then larger fish that feed on them won’t live. It goes further and further out, so really, if the coral reefs die, then the entire ocean’s ecosystem will be in jeopardy.
As people came to my table, where I had set up IOLR flyers, a large poster display, a video, t-shirt, pins, and bracelets and necklaces that we had supplied, I told them what was happening to the coral reefs. I said that the coral reefs were dying out and our ecosystem would be destroyed, and then I showed them what the coral reef deterioration looks like now, and then what it looked like after IOLR restored it. I explained that IOLR came to the idea to replant the coral reefs and have them adapt to the current conditions of the ocean. IOLR first tried replanting them in the ocean, which failed. But then they tried replanting them in the lab, and then moving them into the ocean, and sticking them in the sand with pegs. This method was successful, and they are now doing this in 15 locations around the world.
After telling the people visiting my stand all of this information, I raised a total of over $2000 dollars for IOLR. It felt good to raise that much money for an institute that repairs the harm we have inflicted on the world through pollution and global warming. I found that a lot of the people who donated funds were convinced by their children to do so, who were mostly my age. Also, some children took money out of their own wallets, and emptied their pockets to add up to the $2000. Overall, the two days were very successful, and I felt extremely happy with what I had accomplished.
On a side note, the faculty at my school took notice of my environmental project, and asked me to enter a contest in our area for science and sustainability. I earned second prize for the coral reef project, so that was an accomplishment that I did not expect, and also made me very happy.
In addition to my IOLR project, I also did some mitzvah work in the community. The first mitzvah work I did was when I volunteered for the Town of New Castle Fall Festival. I helped out with the hayride. I rode around on the hayride, and made sure that the people, especially the children, were sitting down, and did not get back up. Sometimes, I had to stay behind to help people stand in the safety zone as they waited for their turn, and gave them information about the ride while they waited. When I did this, I felt very helpful and grown up because I volunteered to, basically, do a job.
The other mitzvah work I did was when I went to a Thanksgiving dinner for an organization called Footsteps. They assist ultra-religious Jews who are unhappy with their lives. The purpose of this Thanksgiving dinner was to try to show them more modern practices, like secular holidays. I came with my mom. I helped set up the tables and chairs, and then I helped hang the ribbons and decorations. I also sat down and ate with some of the former ultra-religious Jews. During the performance after the dinner, the first thing the emcee said was, “How do you all feel about being in a church?” One man screamed out, “Better than being in Shul!!!” This showed me how determined these people are to change their lives. This experience made me realize how lucky I am to have freedom.
I think the activities that I did during this portion of my bar mitzvah project were very worthwhile. They opened my eyes to how some people live, and also how we treat our environment. I want to share this knowledge, and try my best to continue to help these causes, as I did for my project.