New book helps kids find a mitzvah project that fits

Bar and bat mitzvah projects have become a key component of the bar and bat mitzvah process — but how are kids supposed to choose what to do?

That’s where a new book comes in. Published three months ago, it’s titled “The Mitzvah Project Book: Making Mitzvah Part of Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah … and Your Life.”

The idea of writing the guide was inspired in part by mitzvah day, a staple at many congregations these days.

“There would be 10 or 20 choices on things you can do on that day,” Diane Heiman, one of the book’s co-authors, recalled. That made her stop and think. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if kids realized that there are so many things they can do that match their own interests?”

Liz Suneby, the other co-author, had her revelation as she watched her youngest daughter struggle to find a mitzvah project that fit who she was and what she cared about.

“I wanted her to do something that wasn’t nameless or faceless,” Suneby said.

Heiman and Suneby, both mothers of two in the Washington, D.C. area, decided to write a guide. They organized the chapters around things that interested teens, from arts to bullying to animal care and protection, and suggested ways for the teens to launch their projects. But they’re not looking to tell the young people exactly what to do.

“We don’t want to be prescriptive,” Suneby said. “We just want to inspire.”

Heiman added, “I think having a resource like this gives a really good launching point for the kids because they can look up their own interests and hopefully springboard some ideas from the book.”

Suneby and Heiman both pointed to one boy in particular. He took one of the book’s myriad ideas and put his own spin on it: Rather than merely compiling a cookbook as the authors suggested, he went to the senior citizens’ community where his grandparents lived and began collecting recipes from the residents. In the process he interviewed residents about their lives. So his cookbook will have not only recipes but also the personal anecdotes.

“He’s paying attention to elders, giving them time and a chance to be respected,” Suneby said, which is much more than the book had advised.

For young people who choose a project for which they have a passion, the project could very well outlast the bar or bat mitzvah itself.

“It’s amazing how many kids we’ve spoken to who have continued from a project they started for their bar or bat mitzvah,” Suneby said.

“The Mitzvah Project Book: Making Mitzvah Part of Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah … and Your Life”
by Liz Suneby and Diane Heiman (189 pages, Jewish Lights, $16.99)