The following essay on community service was written by Jakob Shonbrun Siege, 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.
A large part of growing up and maturing is learning how you can help others. One way to do this is through community service, which can have a direct impact on your environment and the people around you. I participated in a few community service projects throughout this bar mitzvah process, which gave me a lot of perspective as someone who hasn’t done anything like that before.
One of the projects I was a part of was the Park Slope Civic Council’s clean sweep in which I walked around my neighborhood picking up trash. While it may seem a bit lackluster it was actually quite interesting/saddening to see the large amount of garbage in a neighborhood that is supposedly very wealthy and clean. Some of the things I learned during my sweep of Park Slope were that cigarette butts are by far the biggest component of litter in my neighborhood, many people see tree beds as garbage cans, and picking up trash with those picker-upper grabby things is really a lot of fun. This project was very rewarding because I saw how it directly helped my community and the streets I walk on nearly every day. Every time I finished cleaning a block I could look back and see empty tree beds and litter-free sidewalks, which gave me a great sense of accomplishment and pride. And even though now the streets are of course dirty again, I will be back in the spring and in years to come to help out my neighborhood.
I also participated in some smaller community service projects, but they are just as important. The first was the Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis walk in Prospect Park. Those are two diseases that greatly lower the quality of life for the people who have them. Ulcerative Colitis has had a large affect on my family as my mom has been struggling with it for a year and a half. Although we can say now that she is in remission, we still must help people who are not. One amazing part of that experience was seeing everyone come together and talk about the diseases without judgment or shame, which is probably the most powerful way of getting things done. The walk was shortened due to weather but it still raised a lot of money for the cause and showed me how incredible people can be when they come together for a common goal.
The other project was with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy group where I helped clean up a small park near the canal which aided in the prevention of sewage finding its way into the Gowanus. I picked up trash, weeded, and even cut down some dead trees to make the park pretty and usable again. I knew that the Gowanus had a lot of sewage in it but I didn’t know why until I participated in this project. It turns out that when it rains, a lot of that water goes into one large sewer pipe and it overflows. That overflow is dumped into bodies of water like the Hudson, East River, and the Gowanus. This is known as Combined Sewer Overflow, or CSO. One of the best ways to prevent CSO is through bioswales, which are plant beds that collect water and prevent it from getting into the sewer. You may have seen them throughout NYC as those mini gardens around some trees. It is amazing to say that my neighborhood and others near the Gowanus have implemented many projects to create and manage bioswales like the park I worked on.
The last, and by far the biggest project I worked on was, I’m sorry to say, political. My family and I went on a bus with many others to Pennsylvania to campaign for Hillary Clinton. We went to a field office near Philly and learned what exactly we were doing and how to do it. My dad and I then went out with a list of addresses and people to knock on some doors. During our adventure, we found that most people were not home and only got to talk to a few, but it was still a great experience. I had never participated in politics or really done anything substantial to help someone or something I believe in, so this project was new and amazing to me. Although Hillary did not win the election, I’m still glad that I did what I did because when she thanked all the volunteers during her concession speech, I knew she was talking to me.
Community service is such an amazing way to help others and is a massive part of growing up and maturing. I felt so proud that I had helped someone after each of my projects and I will definitely continue participating in them. As the last part of my community service for this Bar Mitzvah I will be donating a portion of the money I receive today to the CCFA, which helps research for Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. There is still a lot to be done to help people with these diseases and we can be a part of that progress.