Diane is the co-author of three non-fiction books for tweens, most recently, The Mitzvah Project Book Making Mitzvah Part of Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah… and Your Life (Jewish Lights). Her writing partner is her best friend from college, Liz Suneby.
The Mitzvah Project Book Making Mitzvah Part of Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah… and Your Life is a perfect book for any child in your life preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Kids can be overwhelmed with the idea of a Mitzvah Project. Diane and Liz provide wonderful resources to help organize kids, helping them make the right choice that will lead to a meaningful experience. I’m was happy to have the opportunity to chat with Diane about her work.
What inspired you to write The Mitzvah Project Book?
The annual Mitzvah Day at my family’s synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation, was a major source of inspiration. I saw how just one day of service could spark great changes—both within a community and within the volunteers themselves. Likewise, my daughters gained a sense of their own power to change the world from their bat mitzvah projects. Their projects motivated them to continue with volunteer work. That was so inspiring! I wanted to help Jewish tweens find meaningful mitzvah projects so they too would feel the force of tikkun olam.
Tell me a bit about the research.
Collecting the stories of the young people’s projects was rather daunting at first. We worried, “How are we going to find a wide range of projects from all over the country?” We networked with rabbis and educators from California to Vermont via email. My coauthor, Liz Suneby, and I also reached out to friends, friends of friends and those beyond our six degrees of separation. Jewish Lights, our publisher, was very supportive of our quest. In “The Mitzvah Project Book,” we also profile a few kids’ efforts in Australia and Canada. I’m not quite sure how those kids found us!
What did you learn while writing the book that surprised you the most?
What I learned that surprised me the most is that any mitzvah project done with a full heart is a worthy one—whether it took 5 hours or 500 hours, whether it touched one person or helped hundreds of people. The first fifty kids we spoke with had done fifty dissimilar, wonderful projects! The breadth of their efforts, talents and good deeds amazed me. Kids also have boundless imaginations, compassionate instincts and sensitive insights that many of us adults have lost. I really wanted this book to appeal to any Jewish tween who might pick it up and leaf through the pages—whether they were a soccer star, computer whiz, fashionista or foodie. And I hope the book achieves that goal. If it does, it is because of the awesome kids who shared their projects with us.
Any advice for aspiring non-fiction writers?
Forget about the adage, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I think all successful writers are curious. Explore things that are unfamiliar and keep your mind open. Return to anything that gives you a happy pinprick of “aha!” or quickens your heart—because those are the things that will inspire you. Keep an inspiration board, notebook or file to stimulate ideas. And a bit of bravery is useful too. Everyone has self-doubts and self-doubts can paralyze any of us—but wrap those pesky thoughts up in the thickest paper you can imagine and forget about them! Pretend you are writing something you wish had already been written (even if for your younger self)—so just start and keep on writing.
What is your favorite holiday?
This is a hard choice, but I will pick Rosh Hashanah (Passover is a close second). I love the promise of fresh starts, new beginnings, positive changes and hope for the future. Of course, apples and honey are a delicious tradition. At our house, we’ve been collecting apple and bee paraphernalia to decorate our table for this holiday. Also, noodle pudding is my absolute favorite Jewish delicacy and we enjoy it every Rosh Hashanah. I always prepare my co-author’s mom’s apricot jam noodle pudding recipe. In college, Liz and I once ate an entire pan of it by ourselves!
To learn more about The Mitzvah Project, please visit: http://www.mitzvahprojectbook.com/