The following essay on community service was written by Benjamin Weitz, 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.
Community service is when you try to help others with their needs. Social action is when you express your opinion and try to change something. In both you are trying to make a difference in the world, to make something better. But community service more directly affects people’s lives.
I did both for my Bar Mitzvah work. I went to peace rallies, and I worked in a soup kitchen. I handed out political flyers, and I had a book sale to raise money for charity.
I never thought the reasons for the Iraqi war were good ones. I know that others disagree with me, but this is my opinion. I don’t like war. The way humans are, we are sometimes going to have to fight wars; but we should try to avoid it. We didn’t even try to avoid the war in Iraq.
So I have attended a few anti-war, anti-Bush rallies. The one in Central Park had thousands of people, and there were many speeches. The speaker I remember best was the one who said that you can’t talk about putting something in another country if you don’t have it here in the United States. The speaker was talking about freedom, democracy and rights. We don’t always do such a good job of that in this country, so maybe we shouldn’t be at war with other people about it.
We went to Texas last year on vacation. While we were there we heard about Cindy Sheehan’s protest at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford. We found a supporting vigil in San Antonio, and went to it. We had lots of support from people passing by, which I thought was weird because … it was Texas. But it was fun to be meeting Texans who have the same opinions that I do, because usually people just think of Texas as a “Red” state. After the vigil, the organizer pointed us out to a news reporter, who interviewed us. The next day, we were in the San Antonio Express-Newspaper.
It was very exciting to be at the rallies. I loved the crowds, the signs, and the music. I felt enthusiastic. I felt proud to be there, supporting something I believe in. Some people don’t bother marching and attending rallies. Maybe they think they can’t make much of a difference. But I do feel that I can make a difference, and help change things.
I also went to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, which is in Chelsea. They serve more than 1,000 meals a day to the poor and homeless. The first day that I served there, they didn’t even have enough volunteers. All of the volunteers had to work very hard to manage.
There was a little air conditioning, but after working for a while, it still got kind of hot. But I knew that the guests might be living in apartments without any air conditioning, or living on the streets in a heat wave. Their lives must be a lot harder than mine. My complaints, like whether I am getting to watch my choice of TV shows, feel kind of small. I felt sad for these people who had so little.
I served hundreds of people, but whenever I looked at the door, more and more were there. The Soup Kitchen staff instructed us to be respectful of everyone, because these guests don’t get a lot of respect anywhere in the rest of their lives. Some of the guests seemed happy to see me, to see a kid there. Others seemed resentful or angry. A few people were rude. I have always been used to friends and family who welcome me and love my company. I felt I had stepped into a world where it is a challenge for some of these people to be happy about anything. This was a new and sad experience for me.
After Hurricane Katrina my friend David Eisen and I had an idea to have a book sale and donate the money to relief efforts. We collected old books and video games and made signs, and went to the corner of Ninth Avenue and 23rd Street to set up. I was surprised when we raised almost $300, and a reporter interviewed and videotaped us. We were on NY1 news that night.
In general, I had a lot more fun than I thought I would, doing this community service part of my Bar Mitzvah year. I learned that if you are polite and courteous, most people will be nice to you even if they don’t agree with you. (Well, one person in Texas did give me “the finger.”) I was surprised that there were so many people at those events showing up to help and participate. But I also learned that there are a lot of people who need help, and that they need a lot of people to give them help.
What I found out about myself during my volunteer work is that I really like social action. I enjoy working for a political or social cause, especially along with people that I like, and who share my opinions. It’s inspiring, and makes me want to do more. I know that changes don’t happen right away, and it could take a lot of marching and rallies before we can change things in the world, but it’s something I’ll always make sure I’ll do.
I pledge to donate part of my Bar Mitzvah gifts to the North Shore Animal League, for their work rescuing homeless dogs and cats; and to the League of Women Voters, for their commitment to make democracy work for all of our citizens.