Atlanta Teen’s Far-reaching Bar Mitzvah Project

Atlanta Teen’s Far-reaching Bar Mitzvah Project


“Bullied to Silence.
From left to right, Susan Broude, Tami Pivnick, Tara, Jack Morgan and Marci Morgan after the Atlanta premiere of “Bullied to Silence.”

Three years ago, when Jack Morgan – now a rising 10th-grader at Northview High – decided to train a puppy as his bar mitzvah project, he knew he’d made a commitment: to love, teach and bond with a pup named Tara for 14 months, then give her up to help someone disabled.

He knew it would be a sacrifice because he loves dogs so much, but if it would benefit someone else, he was ready to do it.

Tara – a yellow lab/golden retriever mix – went to class twice a week for more than a year.

“Every Thursday night, Jack was in charge of taking Tara to class,” said Jack’s mother, Marci Morgan.

The whole family participated in raising Tara, but Marci and Jack were the primary caregivers. After more than a year of getting attached to Jack and his family, Tara spent another year in training with Canine Companions for Independence – first in Orlando and then in Santa Rosa, Calif. – to determine what type of person she would be best suited for.

Eventually, the Morgans (who live in Johns Creek) learned about a couple in Sedona, Ariz., the filmmakers Tami Pivnick and Susan Broude, who adopted Tara in January 2011. Tami is hearing impaired; she reads lips, but cannot hear the phone or doorbell ring.

But Tara can, and she knows how to let Tami know whether it’s her cell phone or the doorbell; she also alerts Tami to emergency sirens, smoke detectors and appliance signals such as the microwave and the washer and dryer buzzer.

“Tara responds to different sounds,” says Tami, watching Tara rest on her feet. “She also lets me know when Susan is calling me from the other side of the house.”

This dog is food-trained, Tami explains.

Jack Morgan
Jack Morgan gets a long-awaited visit from Tara, the puppy he trained and gave back for someone disabled. PHOTO/courtesy Jeanie Franco Marx

“We withhold food because she must be within a certain weight. She’s an athlete; she’s always working.”

If someone knocks at the door, she’ll poke Tami.

“She usually goes to the door first, then comes and gets me.”

The couple was in town at Atlanta’s Sophia Academy to preview their powerful documentary, “Bullied to Silence,” a visual and emotional journey into the lives of teens who’ve been bullied and scarred for life.

“It also presents the bully and goes beyond the tragedies of ruined lives to offer a message of hope,” said Susan. “This film offers the viewer a chance to be a catalyst for change, to stop the verbal and cyber-bullying.”

All film participants are willing to consult with any troubled teen. Some of those who did not survive their trials by bullies still live through stories told by family and friends.

The filmmakers seek funding to give their film “legs” so it can travel to schools everywhere; they hope to teach educators, parents and students about the seriousness of bullying in order to stop this continuum of pain.

When the film ended at the Atlanta screening, there was silence followed by applause, and many were emotional. Questioning hands went up all over the auditorium.

“What do you do when a teacher allows bullying?” asked one student.

Another admitted to being bullied at school.

“Are any of these bullies in this room?” asked the filmmaker.

“Yes,” he replied.

“It’s never about you,” Susan explains.

“It’s about the bully needing to feel good about him- or herself. Find a way to be heard,” she urges. “Take responsibility. Report it.”

The duo finished the film in a year, working 16-hour days, seven days a week.

“The worst kind of bullying is any bullying if it hurts you inside,” said Susan. “The most important thing to do is not to stay silent.  If you do, you start to disappear.”

After the film’s preview, Tara’s two families finally met. There were hugs and thanks all around, and Tara sniffed and got excited, reacquainting herself with her first family.

For Jack Morgan, his bar mitzvah project had come full circle. Instead of just receiving gifts, he gave one – one that keeps on giving.

Editor’s note: For information, check out their website,   

By Jeanie Franco Marx
For The Atlanta Jewish Times

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