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Fain Honorable Mention - Pre B'nai Mitzvah Tikkun Olam Projects

Pre B'nai Mitzvah Tikkun Olam Projects - Fain Award Honorable Mention

Temple Emanu-El
Dallas, TX 
URJ District: South
Primary Contact: Diana Coben Einstein, Director of Community Relations

What need, problem, or topic does this program address? 

A variety - Caring for the Elderly, Caring for the Environment, Hunger, Homelessness, Education.

Program Goals: 

This program connects our 6th grade families to our current social justice partners in the city of Dallas by creating ongoing mitzvah projects. Not only does this allow our families to build relationships with our partner organizations, but also with other 6th grade families. Students choose the project that inspires them most which makes them committed to the project, and then exposes them to that project and organization 4-8 times during the school year. Each project is different, ranging from working in our community garden, collecting food for our local food pantry, teaching our Tot Shabbat families about mitzvah projects, and visiting residents at a local senior Jewish residence. The families also have a lesson on tikkun olam during their first meeting that reviews the importance of giving back by giving Judaic and secular examples. 

Target audience: 6th graders and their families

Major program milestones: 

During the spring of 2014 while students are in 5th grade, this program is presented to them as a way to complete their required mitzvah hours for their upcoming bar/bat mitzvah. Instead of doing projects individually, we encourage them to participate in group projects. They submit their individual preferences at the end of the school year and are placed into their groups during the summer. During the summer, staff recruits Project Leaders (parents of 1 child in each group) to help lead the group project and also provide the lesson for the first meeting. Project leaders have a training session with our rabbi and staff to review responsibilities.

Each project is also confirmed during the summer with the staff at each of the local partner organizations so dates can be presented to the groups. At the end of the summer families are alerted of their project assignment and have their first meeting at the beginning of the school year. 

How did the program engage targeted audiences and peripheral audiences in your congregation?

Students and parents build relationships with our partner organizations by visiting them consistently throughout the year. Students and parents build relationships with each other because they are fulfilling their mitzvah hours in a group setting by working together to achieve their goal of repairing the world. 

Because some of our groups are working with areas within Temple Emanu- El, those groups are engaged with these 6th grade families. 6th graders and families are working with Temple Emanu-El's Community Garden as well as our Tot Shabbat families. Our Purim group will also engage not only with our holiday celebrations committee, but also with the congregation as a whole because they will expose our families to our partner organizations while they visit our room called "Games for a Cause at Purim." 6th graders also work with our Caring Congregation group to create meals, learn about hospital visits, and raise money for items like reading glasses that we provide at services. 

Partnerships with outside organizations: 

  • The Legacy (senior residence) - elderly residents love having our 6th graders and their families create gifts for them, do projects and games with them, and lead Havdalah.
  • North Texas Food Bank - 6th graders and parents volunteer once a month at the NTFB to divide food and make back packs for children to take home over the weekend filled with food.
  • Vickery Meadow Food Pantry & Clothes Closet - our families visit the food pantry to learn about running this type of organization, help separate food to shelve, and also collect food for donation.
  • Vogel Alcove - families will help this preschool for homeless children by collecting books and creating items for their outside area such as benches and gardens. 

Program leaders/organizers: 

Diana Coben Einstein, congregational staff

Budget (approximate): 

2500 ($1500 was a one-time fee for preparing the learning materials) 

Program results and signs of success: 

6th graders have gotten to know each other and built relationships that will last for years. Our partner organizations know that they have a commitment from Temple Emanu-El families not just to visit once, but to continue their efforts throughout each year and truly make a difference. Food is collected. Meals were delivered. Children are learning about the value of repairing the world. Elderly residents have smiles on their faces. Homeless children enjoy a new garden. 

We know this program is a success because children from previous years have continued to stay involved in their assigned project from the year before. Families get together over winter break because they enjoy each other's company and want their kids to be together before the next mitzvah project. Parents appreciate the group mitzvah projects because they don't have to come up with an independent project for their child. Our partner organizations know they can depend on us for a significant portion of the year. 

This program has engaged our 6th graders and their families, our Tot Shabbat families, our Community Garden group, and our social justice program in general. More families are involved in social justice and continue their involvement once their 6th grade year is finished. It has encouraged more collaboration between social justice and other areas of Temple, for example collecting the mac & cheese at Purim to benefit our local food pantry. 

This is the 2nd year of this program and we hope that it will continue to grow and improve each year.