In Lieu of Gifts

Bar and bat mitzvah gifts from family and friends sometimes add up to thousands of dollars for the bar/bat mitzvah student. Parents are thrilled to add this chunk of change to their child’s college fund after spending at least that amount on their bar/bat mitzvah celebration.

What would move a family (and/or bar/bat mitzvah student) from saving the college gift money to donating this fund, in its entirety, as their child’s mitzvah project?

Recently, I chatted on the phone with Sharon Schmidt, Director of the Philadelphia area American Friends of Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance, blood-services, and disaster-relief organization, serving as emergency medical first responders for the state’s 8 million people.

She told me about a friend whose children donated all of their bar/bat mitzvah gifts to charity. They informed friends and family about their bar/bat mitzvah project via the bar/bat mitzvah invitation. One of the children, Jane Smuckler, who is now 21 years old, recalls her mitzvah project from 8 years ago vividly. “It’s a great way to raise money for a cause, especially for privileged kids. American Friends of Magen David Adom is an organization that meant something to me.”


Today Jane, now a Pre-Med student at Emory University, has brought her mitzvah project donation full circle. She is in Israel for a 6-week Oversees Volunteer Program with Magen David Adom.

Dustin Levin, of the Boston area raised $6000 in lieu of bar mitzvah gifts for his mitzvah project. When asked why Dustin chose Cradles to Crayons he said, “Ever since I was a baby my mom and dad have donated my new and gently used clothing and toys to Cradles to Crayons—an organization which donates clothes, shoes, books, toys and school supplies to tens of thousands of children children each year in Massachusetts. When I was in elementary school I started volunteering at ‪#‎TheGivingfactory, along with my parents and younger brother Jayden. I have sorted clothing and books, and cleaned used toys. Cradles to Crayons is important to me and my family.”Dustin Levin 2

Is it horrible as a parent to swallow the thought of donating your child’s gifts (sometimes amounting to $10,000 plus) to a charity near and dear to your family? What is wrong with the concept of sacrifice, charitable giving and tikkun olam for this one milestone? The idea of a mitzvah project is to teach your child the concept of good deeds. According to the 613 mitzvoth or commandments, several laws involve giving gifts to the poor.

Taking this a step further, having a bar/bat mitzvah student choose an organization which parallels their interests or passions truly defines what a mitzvah project should entail.
Your bar/bat mitzvah child may accomplish this in a variety of ways.

  • Ask a non-profit how to set up a donation page on their website.
  • Get your child involved in the process.
  • Have them interview the organization’s Director face-to-face. He should research how the donation will impact others.
  • Ask friends and family via email or the invitation to donate #inlieuofgifts to this charity. Include the reasons for choosing a certain non-profit as the benefactor.
  • Deliver the final donation in the form of a big check and take a photo. The pic may be shared in donor thank you notes explaining how it will aid the organization.

At, we emphasize more of a ‘hands-on’ volunteer approach, however, #inlieuofgifts, if it goes beyond the ‘ask’, may be the next wave of mitzvah projects.

What are your thoughts about #inlieuofgifts?



Cheryl Friedenberg is the co-founder of, a website helping bar/bat mitzvah students nationwide discover meaningful mitzvah and community service projects. She lives in Blue Bell, PA with her husband and teenage daughters, ages 14 & 17. As an active community volunteer, she cooks for Soup Squad at Congregation Beth Or, is a driver for Home Delivered Meals at KleinLife, and is an active school volunteer. Her understanding of social media marketing has given her the experience to consult several local businesses and campaigns.