Getting Teens To Give Back
Connor Tukel, a high school senior from Detroit, understands the importance of supporting his community. While he plans to become an entrepreneur, his experience in philanthropy has already shown him the importance of giving back.
“I want to give back monetarily and actively to my community,” he said in a recent phone interview.
Tukel is a member of Detroit’s Jewish Fund Teen Board, one of two new Jewish teen philanthropy “incubator” cohorts begun by the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN). Founded in 2006, JTFN is the largest resource for the growing field of Jewish teen philanthropy.
Launched in 2013, JTFN’s Foundation Board Incubator Program funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund established teen philanthropy programs in cities with philanthropic organizations that were already established but lacking teen divisions; the first two are in Detroit and San Diego.
Detroit’s Teen Foundation received $50,000 from its parent organization, the Jewish Fund of Metropolitan Detroit. The San Diego Teen Foundation will work to raise an additional $15,000-$20,000 to create a granting pool.
Above all, the giving process is intended to educate teens about Jewish values, according to Briana Holtzman, program director of the incubator program.
“Core to our Jewish tradition are the ideas of tzedakah [charity] and tikkun olam [repairing the world],” she said. “We are taught about a holy obligation to be bettering the world and supporting those around us.” Through grant-making, Holtzman intends for Jewish teens to take these lessons to heart.
Giving teens the responsibility to research and make grants is a quickly growing trend. A 2013 study sponsored by the United Nations Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of American youth between ages 8 and 19 donated to groups doing charitable work. The research confirmed that young people today are more eager to give than ever before.
Detroit’s Jewish Fund Teen Board received a surprisingly large number of applicants — 52 — which is double the amount of board positions available; the San Diego cohort received 29 applicants.
“Most applicants have had a bar/bat mitzvah or have been involved with Jewish institutional education,” said Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego's philanthopy officer, Darren Schwartz, “but these programs allow them to merge their secular interest with their Jewish background by supporting both Jewish and universal causes.”
Each teen board consists of about 30 high school students and meets monthly during the eight-month academic program. After conducting site visits to possible grantees, the boards allocate money to the chosen nonprofits. JTFN encourages that the teen boards explore grantmaking through a Jewish lens, but does not restrict grant allocations.
According to Schwartz, the 28 San Diego Teen Foundation board members represent eight different synagogues and 16 different high schools in the San Diego area.
While Tukel said that the Detroit board has not yet selected organizations to fund, Katie Oberman, a junior at Calasbad High School in Carlsbad, California, said her board has developed a mission statement pertaining to the human rights of women and children.
“If you can foster philanthropy involvement at a young age,” said Tukel, “it kind of builds over time and enables Jewish teens to still be philanthropists and give back when they’re older. Getting that exposure early on is the start of a path of hopefully long lives of philanthropy.”
A Survivor And A Pre-Med Student Team Up
Yair Saperstein, a 23-year-old medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Irene Hizme, a 77-year-old, wheelchair-bound Czechoslovakia-born Holocaust survivor, met in October 2012 at a medical ethics conference hosted by Yeshiva University. Hizme was a keynote speaker and Saperstein was a student volunteer. The two quickly realized that they shared the same quirky interests, sense of humor and passion for speed.
“I first realized Irene liked to move fast when I was pushing her onto the stage for her keynote address,” said Saperstein, sitting across the table from Irene in her Oceanside, L.I., home. “I was being very cautious and she told me to ‘stop moving so slowly!’”
“He was treating me like a fragile old lady — I’m not that old yet!” said Hizme.
In April 2014, Saperstein pushed Hizme in her wheelchair to the finish line in the Friends of the IDF 5K race in North Woodmere Park. Together, they finished in first place and helped raise several thousand dollars for IDF veterans.
“I suggested we attach a buckle to her wheelchair while running the race, but Irene said ‘No way!’” said Saperstein. “She said ‘You can never belt me in! I’m a free spirit.’”
The two competed together again on Nov. 2 in the New York City Marathon. Saperstein ran on Hizme’s behalf to raise money for The Blue Card, an organization that gives direct financial support to Holocaust survivors. Together, they called themselves “Team Blue Card” (or “Team Hizme,” Hizme added), and raised $1,909 for the organization (Saperstein is still accepting sponsors). Irene wore her Marathon Finisher medal from the IDF 5K race at the Blue Card sponsored dinner on Monday night. She proudly told everyone that Saperstein had “run the marathon for her.”
Hizme, a retired biochemist/computer programmer, has been a beneficiary of The Blue Card’s services for several years since developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease that damages the myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord, severely limiting movement. Confined to a wheelchair and with limited use of her hands and feet, Hizme got help from The Blue Card for her medical bills, and the group provided her with smaller comforts including a television and a computer.
“It’s one of the few organizations that truly helps survivors with the small, day-to-day things,” said Hizme. “Running, or rolling, in my case, to help this organization was worth every minute.”
Established in Germany in the 1930s and then re-established in New York City in 1939, The Blue Card receives funding from the Claims Conference and from private donors. About two-thirds of the organization’s 1,700 grant recipients live in the New York area.
In the basement of her home, Hizme has a drawing board where she creates intricate works of calligraphy that she gives away as birthday and thank you cards. She does many of her works as a volunteer for The Blue Card.
“You give back with what you can. I can draw, and Yair can run,” said Hizme, as she displayed on her couch some of her most recently completed thank-you cards to The Blue Card donors.
“Of course, I would run if I could,” Hizme continued. “But this time Yair will have to do it for me. I just hope people don’t think we’re a couple. After all, he’s not really my type — he’s way too young.”
First All-Female Cohort For Joshua Venture Group
One gets Jewish teens and b’nai mitzvah students involved in community service work in urban Detroit. Another is working to improve online Jewish education options. And another is developing a unique curriculum based on women of the Bible.
All of them are women.
Joshua Venture Group (JVG), a nonprofit organization that has been investing in Jewish entrepreneurs since 2000, recently announced its selection of six fellows for its 2014-16 Dual Investment Program. This is the first time all the fellows are women—something that happened not by design, but was a “pleasant surprise,” as Lisa Lepson, the group’s executive director put it.
“An investment like this in female Jewish leadership is refreshing to see in our community, and we look forward to watching these women build a strong support network together alongside their impactful ventures,” Lepson said in a news release.
The two-year program, which begins this month, seeks to cultivate visionary leaders and ideas that will strengthen the Jewish community through educational, social, spiritual, cultural and service programs. Each fellow will receive more than $100,000 in funding and support to develop her ventures.
Past Joshua Venture fellows include Idit Klein of the Jewish LGBT group Keshet; Amichai Lau-Lavie of the Storahtelling theater troupe; and Sarah Lefton of G-dcast, a producer of Jewish animated videos and apps.
Listed below are the six new fellows:
Nora Feldhusen: PeerCorps, Detroit
PeerCorps is a mentorship program for Jewish teens and b’nai mitzvah students to forge relationships with one another and with community-based work in Detroit. PeerCorps partners with a diverse range of grassroots initiatives within the city, addressing issues like food security, housing for political asylum seekers and education.
Chana German: Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy, Ramat Gan, Israel
The Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (LVJA) is an online program working to provide quality Jewish education to Jewish day school students as well as to select motivated Jewish learners throughout North America. It enables schools to supplement their instruction for grades 8-12 with affordable and innovative lessons, and connects students to a global network of Jewish learners.
Room on the Bench, Brooklyn
Room on the Bench is a program dedicated to the full inclusion of students with disabilities into Jewish day school communities. Teachers, outside service providers, parents, and the wider school community are involved in integrating students with disabilities into the classroom and community, and sending the message that they belong there.
Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman: Orot: The Center for New Jewish Learning, Skokie, Ill.
Orot: The Center for New Jewish Learning is a multidisciplinary facility aiming to provide the Chicago area with a pluralistic model for Jewish study and practice. The facility seeks to bring people from across a wide spectrum of affiliation (including the unaffiliated) together to explore Judaism through meditation, music, creative writing, visual arts and movement.
Alicia Jo Rabins: The Complicated Lives of Biblical Women, Portland, Ore.
The Complicated Lives of Biblical Women is an educational curriculum based on the complex stories of women in Torah. The curriculum combines text study with art, music and participant-generated commentary to deepen awareness of often under-studied stories.
Tikvah Wiener: I.D.E.A. Schools Network, Brooklyn
The I.D.E.A. Schools Network aims to transform Jewish day schools through project-based learning, a method that lets students tackle and solve real-world problems; produce multimedia creations that have value and relevance in the real world; and develop their creativity, digital literacy, collaboration skills and other tools.