W hen it came to choosing a bat mitzvah project, Alexandra Kukoff had a long, make-the-world-a-better-place list: volunteer at an animal shelter, help out at a soup kitchen, take on an environmental project, and so on. She knew she needed to pick just one if she had any hopes of completing a project in time for her Aug. 20 celebration.
At her local Barnes & Noble, Kukoff searched for a how-to guide for completing a bat mitzvah project, but couldn’t find one. So she scrapped her other ideas and decided to instead write “A Jewish Girl’s Guide to a Bat Mitzvah Project.” The book would be her bat mitzvah project.
So far, the 12-year-old has interviewed 25 recent bat mitzvah girls and older women about their bat mitzvah projects. The stories range from a group of older women who decided at their b’nai mitzvah class that they would honor the elders in their shul by writing a book about them to two girls who live in Texas who celebrated their bat mitzvah by raising money to provide food, toys, and diapers for a shelter for battered women.
One of her favorite interviews so far has been with Dena, a girl whose grandmother offered to take her on a trip to anywhere she wanted as a bat mitzvah present. Instead of traveling to France of Italy, she chose to travel to Utah and volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society, an animal shelter in Kanab, Utah. Dena also raised $9,000 for the shelter by asking family and friends to donate in lieu of gifts.
“The goal is for the reader to be inspired by what other girls and women are doing around the globe,” Kukoff, whose family attends Temple Etz Chaim, a Conservative congregation in Thousand Oaks, Calif., told The Jewish Week. “I’m hoping that my book will inspire other bat mitzvah girls to think about community service and want to continue volunteering even after their bat mitzvahs.”
Kukoff hopes to interview 100 girls and women in total. To help spread the word, she has created a Facebook page for her project (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Jewish-Girls-Guide-to-a-Bat-Mitzvah/144751862228313) where she spotlights favorite bat mitzvah stories and encourages fans to tell their family and friends about the project.
This isn’t the first book-related project Kukoff has started. The California-based teen is also the founder of TheBookBeat.org, a book review blog that incorporates short videos in which she discusses one of the 20 or so books she reads each month.
For the bat mitzvah how-to guide, Kukoff has already lined up a publisher (she declined to disclose the name) and plans to donate all proceeds from the book to Nes Gadol, a bar and bat mitzvah program for special-needs children at Vista Del Mar in Los Angeles. The cause resonated with her, she says, because she was born deaf in her left ear due to missing bones in her ear.
The hearing loss “makes things a bit tough at school,” she says. “When I was younger, it was hard to make friends. People would talk to me and I would say, ‘What? What? What?’ over and over again. My classmates would get annoyed and walk away from me or think I’m not listening.”
These days, Kukoff has embraced her disability and says that being deaf in one ear has taught her to weather difficulties and persevere. She hopes her book about bat mitzvah projects will encourage bat mitzvah girls to do the same. “In spreading the word to girls and women all over the world about the different kinds of mitzvah projects, and what they can inspire in others, I hope that I will inspire tikkun olam [repairing the world] everywhere,” she says.
To submit a story for publication in Alexandra Kukoff’s book, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org; E-mail: Tamar@jewishweek.org