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Beyond Party Plans: Meaningful Mitzvah Projects
A Conservative Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

Beyond Party Plans

Why limit a bar mitzvah’s meaning to the choice of the right invitations and caterer? Taking on a project works best when it’s the bnei mitzvah’s choice. One girl, Elana Erdstein, entered the annals of Jewish history by collecting unused samples of soap, shampoo and toothpaste from local hotels and corporations and donating them to homeless shelters and battered women’s shelters.

Ecologically-minded bnei mitzvah can take on an outdoor clean up project.

Torah study? before a bar mitzvah? aren’t all the lessons enough? Yes, but what about making a formal commitment to share what has been learned with a friend who won’t be having a bar mitzvah. A degree in Judaic studies is not a prerequisite for Jewish teaching. If you know aleph, teach aleph.

Personal Change
If the goal of a bat mitzvah is to create a grown up Jewish identity, then taking on Jewish deeds is a good start. Bring Shabbat home. Light candles, say kiddush, make a hamotzi. Begin learning more of the service. Make an effort to buy and read Jewish books. Turn up the volume when news about Israel is being reported. Take little steps to become a more conscious Jew.

When the Iron Curtain stood between Jews and Jewish practice in the Soviet Union, it was popular to keep their plight on Jewish consciences by twinning the bar mitzvah boy with a Jewish boy in the former U.S.S.R. Now in a post-Glasnost world, twinning is done differently. Pairs are created with kids who have mental disabilities that keep them from celebrating a full ceremony. Righteous gentiles who saved Jews from annihilation can be chosen as twins as can young Jews who perished in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or those who did not reach their bar mitzvah year because of the Nazi-led slaughter. That a Jew can stand today, proud to be a Jew, is the ultimate victory over those forces of destruction.


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