The Mitzvah Project: Good Deeds Can Happen at Any Age
By Jennifer Agress / September 1, 2015
In today's day and age, when pre-teens think of their upcoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the celebration of their 13th birthday, they think about the party involved. What will they wear? Who will they invite? Who will they dance with? Will Justin Bieber be able to make it? But even more important than Bieber, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs have a special significance in a young Jewish child's life.
It is a celebration of his or her progression from child to adult; and in the Jewish faith, it gives them accountability for all of their spiritual, ethical and moral deeds. And with that accountability, comes one of the Mitzvah's most important components, the Mitzvah project -- begetting the teen of the hour to ask him or herself a slightly more critical question: How can I use my Mitzvah to make a difference in the world?
For something to count as a Mitzvah project, children must plan and carry-out a deed that positively impacts a particular group of people, a community or the world around them. And while many complete this act by helping in soup kitchens, knitting blankets for the homeless, planting a garden at an underprivileged school, or conducting a food drive for a local orphanage during the holidays, today's Mitzvah candidates are thinking out-of-the-box: hosting equestrian races, designing clothes to honor a deceased relative, or launching a social media campaign to encourage people to be kind to one another.
There are some individuals, like 90-year-old concentration camp survivor Saul Dreier that celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs many moons ago. They don't let their good-doing stop at age thirteen. A Margate resident and member of Temple Chaim, led by Rabbi Henry McFlicker, Saul is equally passionate about his faith, his people, and one of his favorite hobbies, music. Wanting to do a Mitzvah that combined all three, he approached Rabbi Henry a little over a year ago with a unique idea: he wanted to start a band of Holocaust survivors. "To this day, I remember when Saul came to my temple to talk to me," Rabbi Henry recalls.
Regaling on his tales of being in the 'death camps' in the 1940s, Saul told Rabbi Henry how he used to play the drums. While he loved the art, he hated the job; as part of a camp-wide orchestra, he was forced to sit outside the gas chambers and play the drums as women and children marched to their deaths.
"It was a horrible image. Saul told me that if he didn't't play the drums, he would have been in that line with them," explained Rabbi Henry. "He told me he wanted to start the Holocaust Survivor Band. At first, I was skeptical that he would find people, but I told him that otherwise I thought this was a great idea."
Finding Reuwen "Ruby" Sosnowicz a few days later, another Holocaust survivor, the two began to practice at Temple Chaim. Today, having added a few more members - all immediate relatives of other survivors - they've packed more than 80 local and national venues, taken a music tour through the US, played in Vegas, been featured in The New York Times, and have even appeared on TV. And on August 2nd, they will be honored for their accomplishments over the past year by the Educational Alliance to Combat Hate.
"I'd never seen people put their walkers down and hold hands and dance until I saw the people in the audience, at my synagogue, watching their performance," Rabbi Henry recalls. "It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen."
Playing the music that was popular during the years they were in the concentration camps, these Holocaust Survivors have done a Mitzvah based in love. With each performance, they honor the tragic deaths of their families, or their people; but at the same time, they celebrate life.
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