Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Temple David of Monroeville will join this year with J-Site in creating the Mitzvah Corp program, for 11th- and 12th-grade students.
South Hills and Monroeville teens will meet once a month at Temple Emanuel and Temple David, respectively, to study the same lessons of Jewish values, according to Beth Goldstein, director of teen education at the Agency of Jewish Learning, which runs J-Site.
Teens from other areas of the city are welcome to participate as well.
A second meeting each month will bring the teenagers from both locations together to work on a service project.
For example, September’s lesson will tie in values of Sukkot and developing land for sustenance, with concepts of community service and responsibility. September’s service project will bring the teens together to work one day at Serenity Farms, which grows produce for Squirrel Hill Food Pantry clients.
The teens will have a hand in choosing future topics they wish to study, as well as the projects in which they will engage, Goldstein said.
Marci Barnes, interim principal of the Weiger Religious School, which teaches pupils from Temple David and Parkway Jewish Center, will lead the sessions in both the South Hills and in Monroeville.
In February, the teens will travel together on a four-day trip to the American Southeast to learn about and be inspired by the Civil Rights movement. Barnes and the teens will decide on the specific itinerary of the trip.
“They will learn about civil rights, change, and how to create change,” Goldstein said. The teens then will use what they learned and apply it to an aspect of Pittsburgh they would like to see improved.
“They will come back to Pittsburgh and come up with a project that will affect Pittsburgh,” Goldstein said. “They can even partner with another organization.”
While other cities run community service programs for Jewish teenagers, “Mitzvah Corp is completely our design,” Goldstein said.
Barnes, Rabbi Jessica Locketz of Temple Emanuel, Rabbi Barbara AB Symons of Temple David and J-Site collaborated to develop the program.
“Teens around the country are doing a variety of things similar to this,” Goldstein said. In fact, she hopes to coordinate the Southeast trip with a group of teens from another city, to broaden the experience for the participants.
“This will add to their peer group, while allowing them to give back to their community,” she said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)