The following essay on community service was written by Benjamin Casper, 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, I did three different things: I took part in the Women’s March against Trump last January; I bagged Thanksgiving meals for the homeless at Repair the World in Brooklyn; and on several weekends this fall I helped clean up after a large meal service for the poor at St. Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan.
This was the first time in my life that I had actually taken an active role in any community service, so it felt pretty amazing. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. After I had done all of this work to help the community, however, I felt like it was completely worth it; it opened new doors for me that allowed me to take a more active role as a helper in my city.
The Women’s March was the first real march I had ever been a part of, so it was another new experience for me. Honestly, I don’t think I’d want to do it again, because it was very long, and at the time, I didn’t quite understand what I was there for. I was surprised at the number of people at the march. We had planned to meet up with some friends, but it was too difficult to get to them! At the same time, it felt like I was doing my part to speak out against Trump, along with thousands of other people, and it gave me a very empowered feeling. I saw people with signs that said the most outrageous things, but it was fitting in response to an outrageous president. However, the fact that there were so many people there told me that many more people than I thought actually cared about the city and the country we live in, and this was heartwarming.
The second service activity that I did was at a non-profit Jewish organization called Repair the World. I took part in food bagging for Thanksgiving. This was a shorter activity, but I was with all of my best friends, so it was fun. We talked about the homeless and the insecurity of food for many people, and what the rates of food security and insecurity are in the U.S. and how that may relate to us. I learned that food insecurity is at an unusually high percentage right now in the U.S. It was nice to be doing it with kids my age, because I felt like I was “at home,” or in a fitting environment in which we were all kids who wanted to (or had to) help the community. If I got the chance, I think I would probably do it again, because I enjoyed working with my friends, and although we didn’t actually bag that much food, it still does feel good to help people in some way or another when you can.
The third and most meaningful service action that I did was at the St. Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan. During my first session at the church, a man asked me to take his garbage for him. I was clearly younger than all the other volunteers who were there, but he felt comfortable asking me anyway. This made me feel like I was actually making a difference; even though I was so much younger than everyone else, I was still able to be recognized as a helper by the clients. At my second session, my dad and I were fixing a stack of fallen chairs in the back of the church, and a man was playing piano. He wasn’t particularly good, but this didn’t matter as it was the effort and dedication that he put into getting some time to play piano at the end of the day, that was so moving for my dad and me. My final experience at the church was on my third session, when my dad and I met one of the leaders of the church meal service, Ralph. He said, “People are more hungry for respect than for the food.” We could tell that Ralph was really committed to helping these people, and that was one of the best parts of the evening for me.
These kinds of experiences are the reason I would most definitely do community service at the church again. I am with older people, but I still feel welcomed and accepted by everyone, including the clients themselves. I did this work with my parents through New York Cares. The only thing I would’ve wanted to change is to be able to do it on my own, because I think independence is really important – like my Sabah, Eitan. However, this was not possible because you have to be sixteen in order to independently volunteer for New York Cares.
St. Francis Xavier’s Church was my favorite place to do community service. Not only were the people so welcoming, but I also felt the most helpful when I was working there. In conclusion, over the course of these three community service activities, I learned what it means to actually take part in a community. I also learned how amazing it feels when you take the time out of your week to do that, whether it’s for a Bar Mitzvah or not. I was able to meet new kinds of people who are not as lucky as I am. In fact, I had been scared of seeing people who are disabled or very poor because, like most of us, I was afraid of the unknown. After volunteering at St. Francis Xavier church, I can happily say that I am not scared of people like this at all anymore. In fact, they are warm and friendly people just like most of us, if not more so. All in all, I had an incredible experience that warmed my heart on multiple occasions. New York Cares provides volunteer service for people of all ages almost everywhere across New York City. I am so thankful to them that I decided to give a portion of my Bar Mitzvah gift money to New York Cares to help them continue to do the great work they do.