What do you choose for a mitzvah project? As its name implies, you opt for something that will benefit the community, or at least one segment of it. But to ensure that you see it through, that you remain engaged with your project until it is complete, it should also be something you care deeply about.
And if you can build it yourself, you’ve made a special choice indeed.
Evan Roth of New City scores high on all three criteria.. He’s decided to endow a gaga pit for the youngsters in his synagogue, Congregation Sons of Israel in Nyack, and — with a little help from his family — he will build it in the spring.
The idea for the pit — a 20-foot wide octagonal enclosure with composite walls — came from Evan’s own camp experience. A student at the Felix Mesta Middle School, Evan became a bar mitzvah on October 17.
His mom, Tina Roth, explained that “gaga is a form of dodgeball that originated in Israel in the 1970s and spread when Israeli counselors brought the game to summer camps around the world.” Considered both safer and “more exciting” than dodgeball, she said, it uses a soft foam ball and is played in a pit whose walls are generally about three feet tall.
“It’s a friendlier version of dodgeball,” Ms. Roth said. In dodgeball, “you can hit someone wherever you want. Here, you have to hit below the knee or lower. It’s intended to be a less aggressive game. The goal is to be the last man standing. If you hit someone above the knees, you’re out.”
Evan is raising money to build the pit and has started a GoFundMe page as part of this effort. He also is publicizing his project on Facebook, and the synagogue is helping by notifying congregants.
On his GoFundMe page, Evan described his goals: “Installing this pit at CSI Nyack will allow the older kids to have a separate play space from the younger kids…. Also, a gaga pit may encourage the older kids to come to temple if they know they can play a game of gaga after kiddush … and hey, maybe we’ll even get some of the adults to join in the fun!”
In a phone call, Evan said the synagogue now has a small fenced-in playground area. He hopes to put the gaga pit just outside the fence. According to his mother, covid has caused a temporary delay in the project, but she hopes to obtain the pit kit, reach an agreement with the synagogue grounds crew on final placement, and build the enclosure by this spring.
“It’s supposed to be a simple installation,” she said, adding that she and her husband, Brad, together with their older son, Ian, will work with Evan to put it together. She expects that “it will only take a few weekends, and we can ask some of Evan’s friends to help.”
It’s only fair that Ian help, said Evan. “I helped him with his bar mitzvah project,” which, as it happened, was covered in this newspaper. For his project, Ian collected funds to build a raised container garden on the synagogue’s lawn.
To win approval of his project from the synagogue, Evan and two of his friends created a PowerPoint presentation and screened it for the synagogue board, explaining why the congregation needed the pit.
“The board unanimously voted that night to approve it,” Ms. Roth said. “Evan was excited that he got such a good response. It was a proud moment.” She expects he will develop an even greater sense of pride when he can actually start seeing people and receiving donations. “It’s been on hold with covid,” she said.
Like his brother Ian, Evan is an active Boy Scout. “I went to a Boy Scout camp that had a gaga pit. I played there every day and really liked it. I came to the realization that I could do this for my mitzvah project. Age doesn’t matter as long as everyone is safe.”
He was, he said, “kind of nervous” about making a presentation to the synagogue board. “I had an idea that they might say no, but thankfully they didn’t. They asked a lot of questions. I was happy when they accepted, and one of the guys on the board donated $100 right after the meeting.” His friends like the project as well, he said, adding that he thinks building it will be easy because “we have all the tools. I think it will be fun to play in it. Kids can go outside and get a break from learning.”
Evan became a bar mitzvah a few days after we spoke. Members of his family did the Torah reading. Other friends and family members shared the simcha on Zoom. Not surprising, preparing for this major event put the gaga project on hold. “His bar mitzvah is Saturday and we’re all consumed with that,” said his mother as the day approached. And while she isn’t sure when the pit will be complete, “We all know our Torah portions.”
To see the pit, go to Evan’s GoFundMe page, gf.me/u/y4kwig.