The following essay on community service was written by Danielle Greenfield, 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.
In preparation for my bat mitzvah, I was required to perform 13 hours of community service.
Instead of giving you a recap of those last 13 hours, I’d like to provide you a short recap of my last 13 years serving various communities.
I’ve always known how fortunate I was to be born in this country, in the greatest city in the world, into this family, to be healthy, happy and provided with everything I could need.
From as far back as I can remember, we’d always give most of my birthday party presents to people in need. I recall being five when my mom and I brought my new toys to the Crisis Nursery at the NY Foundling. I learned that parents could drop their kids off there for up to a month. I later understood the nursery was most often used by a single parent on their way to jail. I obviously didn’t grasp this at the time, but as I grew I’d think about those kids every so often, and hope that a new toy put a smile on someone’s face during an otherwise very sad time for them.
In pre-school I started a charity that Morgan and I still run, called Grandpa Dave’s Creature Comforts. It was named after… wait for it… my Great Grandpa Dave, who taught my mom to do at least one mitzvah per day, and who also loved animals. We started holding donation drives for dog, cat and bunny supplies which we’d bring to the underfunded city animal shelter.
But it was so sad going to the shelter and seeing all those homeless animals. So we stepped up our charity game and started fostering dogs. We’ve helped 15 dogs and 1 newborn kitten find their forever homes. Sadly, one of the dogs and two of the kittens passed away on our watch. I still cry when I think of the sweet blue heeler dog Piper, but knowing she had a loving home with us the last two weeks of her life, when we spoiled her rotten with treats, and constant cuddles with her, makes it a little easier.
Five years ago, Morgan and I started volunteering with Pillows for Paws – hand making beds and toys for shelter animals. About once per year we host a Pillows for Paws Junior event where we invite our entire class to join. The more hands we have – the more toys we can make – the more animals can receive a bed or a toy!
Throughout all this, I’ve marched in my share of rallies and protests. I’ve found it’s not really my thing, but traveling down to DC last year to be part of March for Our Lives WITH my cousin Miranda and Aunt Lauren and Uncle Rob – was just one of the best days! Making a difference and having fun – it doesn’t get any better.
Conversely, over the summer I attended a small protest at a live chicken store in the Bronx. Everything about it was awful. It smelled terrible, there was squawking, the owner kept coming out to yell at us, but I kept thinking it had to be so much WORSE for the chickens. So, I stood my ground and chanted “No hay excusa para el maltrato animal!” (There is no excuse for animal abuse!)
Two years ago I traveled twice to Honduras with the charity FEIH – Foundation of Education in Honduras. The first time it was to open their newest school in the impoverished town of Choloma.
I helped set up and run the event, passed out the gifts I had brought for over 100 kids, and even taught the teachers a way of creating a wipe-off board with ziploc baggies and markers I had brought for them (I know, I know – the baggies are not eco-friendly). I had never seen poverty at that level. It definitely reminded me to appreciate everything I have.
One of the best parts of this school is that one of the classrooms was dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Diane. There is a beautiful plaque that hangs in the room, and during the opening ceremony, they talked about her inspiring life, and her love of children. It was all in Spanish, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they were saying.
In the last couple of months I performed a few mitzvahs just in honor of this day. I picked out a bunch of healthy produce and delivered it to the Yorkville Common Pantry in Harlem. We were only there briefly, but I was still surprised to learn that kids just three miles away from me didn’t have enough food. I then learned that ONE in FIVE children in NYC are hungry. I had no idea. That’s something else I need to work on.
To end on a very happy note, in March I spent a full day up in New Jersey volunteering at the Tamerlaine Animal Farm Sanctuary. Morgan and I cleaned out their garage, shoveled snow and cleaned horse stalls. It was great! We also got to hang out and take selfies with the rescue roosters, chickens, goats, sheep, horses, cows, and three little piglets! Each animal had a sad history – with some escaping from slaughterhouses, some chickens having been saved by activists from the horrible kaporos ritual in some parts of Hasidic Brooklyn, some just suffered basic neglect, and others were given away because of a medical defect or deformity the breeder didn’t want to deal with. The organization does so much with so little, I’ll be donating a portion of my bat mitzvah gift money to them.
Sometimes the problems in this world can seem so big; it can make anyone feel that doing little things are just a waste. But then I remember a great saying in the animal rescue world that reminds me to keep going: Saving one animal won’t change the world, but for that animal, the world is forever changed.