The following essay on community service was written by Jackson Mossey, 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 have always been interested in current events and I pay attention to how people live in different parts of the world and here in the United States as well. My parents emphasize the importance of respecting others and of being generous to people in need. They introduced me to the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam – bettering the world – by including me in community service.
In 2012, when I was almost 10 years old, I was part of a Hurricane Sandy relief effort on Staten Island. The borough sustained a lot of damage and had lost power. There were gas shortages making travel quite difficult. My parents wanted to join the effort to deliver much needed supplies to people in impacted by the storm. The simplest solution was to use our bicycles. They organized a collection of supplies and delivered them directly to beach neighborhoods on the island. At the time, my father owned five bicycle trailers, and had friends with their own trailers. We set up a collection site in the lobby of our 35-story building in Battery Park City and collected diapers, work gloves, cleaning supplies, flashlights and face masks.
Along with our friends and neighbors, we rode from our building to the Staten Island ferry with our fully loaded trailers. As usual, I was on the back seat of our family tandem. Once on the island, we were familiar with the route from our summer trips to South Beach. Right away we could see that the damage was even worse than expected. An entire pier that had washed ashore blocked our way. We also saw a fence covered with seaweed showing a water level of about six feet high. We rerouted and went another way where we then saw a large cargo ship lying right on the road. We were able to pass it, however, and continued on.
We then passed a gas station with a long line of people with gas cans and cars waiting for the gas station to open. We passed the Verrazano Bridge and saw the Hurricane’s devastation on all the beach towns. We arrived at Midland Beach and began riding up and down the streets. We saw a lot of people standing near their homes, making repairs and cleaning up. We gave out supplies and talked to people. Some homes were completely destroyed and abandoned. When we ran out of supplies, we stopped at a distribution center housed in a local school and then spent the rest of the day giving things out and meeting with people.
This impacted me because I learned it is important to take direct action no matter how insignificant it may seem. It really helps make a difference. The people we gave supplies to were very happy to see us and to know that we cared. My dad also made additional trips to Staten Island and to the Rockaways.
In response to the election of 2016, I went to the first Women’s March. My family and I had strong feelings about the newly elected administration and we joined thousands of other New Yorkers to protest for the rights of women, minorities and immigrants. I felt excited as I walked with my parents to the subway. On the packed train everyone was wearing pink hats and had signs. We all got off at the same stop in Midtown. I was amazed by all the people and how loud it was; I couldn’t even hear my own voice. Over 400,000 people attended. It was so crowded that it wasn’t possible to actually march because of how many people there were, everyone just stood still and chanted. Eventually we were able to start moving and made our way towards Trump Tower. It was a good experience for me to be involved, especially to feel part of a large group of people holding similar values. This year I went to the second Women’s March, along with some friends. Although the crowd was not as large, it was still very exciting to be part of a movement supporting equality and diversity.
I’ve also done other community service through the United Jewish Appeal – Time for Good on Martin Luther King Day, both in 2017 and this year. I joined other congregation members in painting murals, packing boxes of clothing, school supplies, and food. Being able to help underprivileged people in my city made me realize that I’m very lucky to have what I need. I realize it is my responsibility to help people who have less than I do.
Another type of community service I did was to play music for people in the East Village. Through the Third Street Music School, where I am a member of the jazz ensemble, I performed in a church for the inauguration of a City Councilwoman. Many senior citizens from the community attended the ceremony. It was an opportunity to both entertain the audience and to celebrate the election of their local representative.
I am proud to be an active member of my community. Every day when I watch the news, I become aware of new ways to possibly make a difference. I will be making a donation following my becoming a bar mitzvah, to the Red Rose school in Kibera, Nairobi, Africa, through a friend of mine doing the Kilimanjaro Initiative.