Did you know that until Bar and Batmitzvah age, all mitzvahs performed are simply a preparation for, what is soon to be, the real deal? We must therefore ask, are we doing enough to ensure that in adulthood our Bnei Mitzvah children will want to do this mitzvah thing properly. Are we getting the required  Bar & Batmitzvah ‘Mitzvah Project’ right?

It is wonderful to share with our youngsters the responsibility of Jewish adulthood and the values of tikkun olam, chesed and compassion that forms the foundation of the Bnei Mitzvah project. For some this project does ignite a pulse that effects a motivation to do more – and in some cases much more. For many however, we must admit, that it may simply be a bit of forced mitzvah doing – which, while being somewhat meaningful and even enjoyable, may end after dessert and once the caterer is paid.

Is there a way to start improving mitzvah projects? Are there projects that will motivate the Bnei Mitzvah child and impactfully benefit the organisation that he or she is seeking to help? Is there a way of not taking the easy route of pushing the mitzvah onto others? Usually that same cohort of friends and family who are continuously asked to hit the ‘donate’ button for a cause they may not care too much about; and who may be getting fed up at this ‘forced’ giving? Is it all about the money or the collection, or should these young adults find a way to give more of their time through a more immersive purposeful experience?

Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Tru’ah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights has written a book titled Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community, about effecting meaningful change through advocacy, direct service, philanthropy, and community organising. It’s an excellent resource for considering how we can help others and ourselves by doing social justice work that makes a difference.

With this in mind, and at the invitation of our Cape Town synagogues and temples, Mensch has put programming in place to help direct and guide this process. The big win is a mitzvah project that holds value and interest for all.  A project that is fun, can be done with friends, is supported by family and that finds synergy with the Bnei Mitzvah child’s interests in a social cause and their personal preferences for giving. It comprises a journey of learning to develop understanding and empathy; engagement for a real experience; and creativity to expand on the various approaches to giving (advocacy, awareness, education, volunteering etc). The outcome should be the motivation to do more on our life’s journey and to embrace meaningfully our Jewish values of giving to all in society.

The Mensch Bnei Mitzvah programming has been tailored to meet the current needs of the partner Bnei Mitzvah group and will be piloted this year. A big thanks to our Network members who are the champions of the impact areas selected: The Environment – Daniella Klaff from ‘Envirochild’ in collaboration with the ‘Cape Town Two Oceans Aquarium’; Literacy – Beth Silbert from ‘Shine Literacy’ and Karen Kaimowitz and Bev De Costa from ‘ORT Education’; Homelessness –  Kerry Hoffman and Caryn Gootkin from ‘Souper Troopers’; Animal Welfare – Yael Fialkov Sacks and her amazing management team at ‘African Tails’