Community Service: Leo T. (2019)

The following essay on community service was written by Leo T., 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.

Mitzvah means “good deed” in Hebrew, and part of Jewish teaching is that we should do good deeds regularly for others.  It is something that has been important to me too, even at an early age, and it is something that is important to my family as well.

When I was six, Hurricane Sandy struck, and it is one of my earliest memories of people needing help.  I went with my parents to deliver food to families in Coney Island and saw some of the devastation for myself.  My sister and I decided to raise money to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.  We created a 3D house out of paper and put it in our building’s lobby with a sign saying we wanted to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes.  We did all of this without any prompting or guidance from our parents, and everyone was proud of us.  That felt really good!

When I grew older, I discovered that I could raise money by playing my violin out on the sidewalks and in parks for passersby to enjoy.  This is called busking, and I spent hours through the years doing this.  My mom let me keep a small portion of what I received (10% to be exact), and the rest could go to any charity I wanted.  I chose to give the money to the ASPCA, to the Bloomingdale Orchestra, and most of all, to the Ponheary Ly Foundation.  The PLF, named after my parents’ friend, is an organization that sends poor children in Cambodia to school, paying for room and board as well.  I was able to pay for a girl to go to school for an entire year my first year donating. Last year, I played my violin and raised money for the tzedakah box at KidSchool which was donated to several charities including the ASPCA and HIAS. I feel that this method of community service was extremely rewarding because I was able to help support people (and animals) in the world, by playing my violin, which is something that I enjoy doing.

Other types of community service I have done involve participating in various protests. For example, I attended the anti-gun march and several women’s marches. I also took part in the Standing Rock protest at Grand Central Station, which was a protest against building a gas pipeline through sacred Native American territories in the Dakotas (known as the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL). My grandpa was my inspiration for this cause, and he even drove to the Dakotas with supplies for the people camped out in the cold to protest DAPL.  I was proud that I could do something to try to help too, in my small way.  I enjoyed taking part in each of these protests because I was able to stand for something, and was able to be surrounded by others who agreed with me.

I have also spent time volunteering in food pantries and soup kitchens. I helped stock the food pantry at the St. Paul and St. Andrew church. Also, last year I went with my class to God’s Love, We Deliver kitchen, where I made meals and cards for disabled and sick people. What I really enjoyed about this was that I knew that I was doing something very important.  Hunger is a big problem in the world and knowing that I did something to help address this felt important and was very satisfying.

In the end, I am proud of what I have accomplished so far in terms of helping others, and I plan to keep contributing and engaging in community service throughout my life. It feels good to have done this service because though it saddens me to know that there are many less fortunate people in the world, I’m happy that I can contribute and aid in the fight to make the world a better place.

I plan on donating a portion of my bar mitzvah gift money to organizations that work to reverse climate change, such as the Nature Conservancy and/or the Environmental Defense Fund.