Ithaca teen picks up trash for bar mitzvah project

Published in The Ithaca Journal, May 28th 2010


ITHACA –  Ethan Skutt is like any ordinary seventh-grader – he plays baseball, loves Harry Potter and has the half-shy sparkle of youthful intelligence in his blue eyes.

But this 13-year-old middle-school student has recently developed a different kind of interest – cleaning up roadside trash.

“I always have fun when I’m doing it,” Skutt says with a smile. “You do it in a group, you get to be outdoors.”

Skutt has volunteered twice for the Danby Democrats to collect trash along Route 96B, the Democrats’ adopted highway. The group collected about 280 pounds of trash along a 2-mile stretch on May 1.

“We got up early, and worked from 9 in the morning to 1:30 p.m.,” he says. “There was a lot of trash, especially since there hadn’t been a cleanup since the snow melted.”

The trash was divided into recycling bags and picked up for disposal by the state Department of Transportation.

This activity also holds religious significance for Skutt.

“It’s my good deed for bar mitzvah,” he says, referring to the coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish youth. His mother, Carol Bushberg, explains that at their family’s synagogue, Tikkun v’Or, “a child getting bar or bat mitzvahed is required to identify a project that is meaningful to them, to perform acts related to it and then actually give some kind of public presentation about it.”

Skutt says he chose trash collection because of its multiple benefits. “People see the nicer roads and it makes them happier, and it also protects animals that could be hurt by the litter.”

He delivered a PowerPoint presentation about his volunteer work at Tikkun v’Or’s annual congregational meeting on May 16.

But the big day is June 12, when he will be recognized as an adult or bar mitzvah in the Jewish community. Wearing a formal suit and a tallit, or prayer shawl, Skutt will co-lead the synagogue’s Saturday morning service with Cantor Abbe Lyons, in a culmination of three years of intense religious training.

Skutt says he isn’t nervous yet, but is “pretty sure” he will be when the time comes.

When asked how he balances schoolwork, sports and his religious duties, he nonchalantly replies, “It usually comes down to cramming at 10 o’clock at night.”

It’s no small achievement for someone his age, and his parents are rightfully proud. A summer vacation to Puerto Rico or Costa Rica is also being planned. “Somewhere I can test out my new Spanish skills,” he says excitedly.

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