Ethan Mitzvah Project letter

Each summer, I have the great privilege of leading the BJE Teen Service Corps, a summer day camp for entering middle and high school students. During the course of the Teen Service Corps, we experience the BJE Impact motto: Learn. Act. Reflect. IMPACT.

Throughout the program, we learn about an issue or theme (this summer’s theme was Empowerment), explore how that issue relates to our community, use Jewish texts, ideas, and values, to help us better understand it, take action on the issue by volunteering with a variety of organizations that each seek to address the issue through different approaches, and continuously reflect on our experiences together. Participants of the Teen Service Corps discover their ability to make a meaningful impact on an issue, and I find such inspiration from their excitement through this discovery. What I have learned from directing the BJE Teen Service Corps is that youth care deeply about answering the following questions for themselves: “Who am I? Who do I want to be? And, what is the difference I will make?”

As the summer of 2014 draws to a close, I wanted to highlight the way that various participants in the BJE Teen Service Corps have begun to answer these questions:

Ethan H., age 13: During last summer’s Teen Service Corps, our theme was “Hunger & Poverty.” One of our service projects was with Alexandria House, a transitional shelter for women and children. Ethan was so moved by working with the children of Alexandria House that he decided to donate gifts from his Bar Mitzvah to them. In his invitation, he sent a letter to his guests, inviting them to “help me make a difference” that included: “This past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in [BJE Teen Service Corps]. During that week, I became acquainted with the Alexandria House and the extraordinary work they do in providing interim housing for mothers and their children….It is with this experience in mind that I intend to donate money received from my Bar Mitzvah to this special organization. The Alexandria House has suggested that donations of gift cards from either Ralph’s or Vons Market, or computer flash drives, would be of great help. Please consider contributing to this special organization and helping me support them.”

Ethan was able to contribute several gift cards, as well as a check for $2000, to Alexandria House on behalf of his Bar Mitzvah guests.

Jacob K., age 12: Jacob participated in this summer’s Teen Service Corps, and was particularly moved by our visit from Make-A-Wish of Greater LA, who shared with us the stories of a few of their “Wish Kids.” They shared that these kids often feel powerless over what is happening to their bodies, and that getting to choose their own wish, and having it granted, is a very empowering, uplifting experience that often motivates them to continue fighting their diseases. For Jacob, this was a very personal connection, as he recently lost his beloved grandfather to cancer. Jacob explained, “He was 74 years old. Some of the kids in Make-A-Wish Foundation are only 2 1/2, that’s 72 years younger then him. That’s 72 years of life that they may never be able have. Make-A-Wish Foundation gives these children one wish, that can potentially help them….It gives these children a sense of happiness in the dark times that they are going through.” Like Ethan, Jacob decided to turn a cause that resonated personally for him into his Bar Mitzvah Project.

Please visit his Bar Mitzvah Wish page and help him make a difference! And, you can read further reflections about our visit with Make-A-Wish from Sara F., age 12, Shira R., age 14, and Gillian G., age 15, by clicking here.

Noa G., age 14, and Henry P., age 15: Following a joint workshop with Williams Institute and JQ International, where we received training on how to use personal narrative to advocate and activate others on causes you care about, Noa and Henry each felt they were now better prepared to take action to stop hateful speech and action. Henry reflected, “I feel much more informed about the LGBTQ community and feel empowered to advocate for acceptance…I hope I have the opportunity to make an impact on someone else and expand their minds to new possibilities.” Noa shared that the workshop made her realize that “It is so important to be aware of all of the discrimination and hate that is happening every day…We need to end hate, and make everyone aware of what is going on. BJE and the Williams Institute has really helped me realize that. I will never again stand idly by.” To read Noa and Henry’s full reflections, click here.

I remain inspired by all of the ways these teens, as well as the other members of the BJE Teen Service Corps, are answering the question, “What’s YOUR impact?”

–Alisha Pedowitz, BJE Impact

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To learn more about BJE Impact, the Teen Service Corps, or to discuss bringing this program to your school/synagogue/camp/other Jewish education program, please contact Alisha