When I was in seventh grade, I knew that giving tzedakah was a wonderful thing to do, but I did not know much beyond that. Frankly, my seventh-grade concerns had more to do with my social life than tzedakah. But as high school neared, my family’s own giving helped me grow to realize that tzedakah was both a great mitzvah and a privilege.
What moved these feelings and ideas to action and identity was the day I joined the Marin/San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation as a high school freshman. Moments after hearing what the Teen Foundation was (25 teens who create a mission statement, research and interview nonprofits, fundraise and make thousands of dollars in grants every year), I knew that it was for me. Working together, meeting our own fundraising goal and personally awarding a giant check to nonprofits I had become passionate about were rewarded with incredible feelings of accomplishment and capability. As a Leadership Council member in my second year, I assumed responsibility for planning and leading JTF board meetings. It felt extraordinary that just one year after I had been a philanthropic beginner, I was already teaching others about the significance of giving.
I served on JTF’s Alumni Council for two more years, creating our own philanthropic projects and coming up with ways to bring our knowledge and experience to the broader community. Together with other fellow alumni, we taught a three-class series on tzedakah to seventh-graders at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. I remember thinking how young, small and spirited our class of 10 students seemed to me. It was particularly meaningful to see these seventh-graders looking up to us and trusting what we had to teach, just four years older than them. As teens and new teachers who were proud to be Jewish and to participate in tzedakah, I realized how much I had learned and grown in those four years.
Currently, as a sophomore at Scripps College in Claremont, I find these experiences and lessons continue to help and inspire me. Now I find myself on the flip side of the equation, researching foundations and applying for grants to support my work advocating for Israel and fighting BDS (the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel) on my campus. Without my JTF experience, such philanthropic work would have seemed daunting and unrealistic. However, the tools that I gained through my hands-on foundation work and the relationships and networks I found there continue to make my goals highly attainable, guiding me in the work that I do on my college campus and beyond. I am deeply grateful for my JTF experience, which continues to inform my adult Jewish identity and the ways, including tzedakah, in which I engage in what I am most passionate about.
The S.F.-based JCF has Jewish Teen Foundations programs in the South Peninsula, North Peninsula, and San Francisco/Marin. Each chapter has a board of 25 high school students and a professional adult mentor. Over the past 12 years, some 650 teen board members have raised a total of more than $1.8 million, providing approximately 250 grants to nonprofits in the Bay Area, Israel and around the world. For more information on the program, contact Lom Friedman, director of Youth Philanthropy, a email@example.com or www.jewishteenfoundations.org.