Last weekend we (finally!) had our amazing kick-off of the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB) for the year. Working with the teens in this program has never ceased to amaze me. Understatement? Absolutely. With everything happening all across the globe right now, I have so much hope in this active and caring generation than I ever have before. I have seen firsthand that those who make up “Gen Z” really aren’t as bad as people often make them out to be.
That being said, this is a program built solely on the ideas, opinions, and decisions of the teens from start to finish. At their first board meeting (yes, they serve on an actual teen foundation board) they will choose an issue area to focus on for the year. I can only imagine how difficult that is going to be with the myriad of issues we are facing every single day. Each one of these teens has strong feelings or personal connections to different things, and that is partially why they are participating in this program to begin with. When choosing their issue area, they rely on the process of consensus and there is no better way for people to learn to (successfully and respectfully) work with one another than making a decision such as this.
Last weekend at the kick-off, I began the afternoon with opening remarks. I later realized that the message I delivered should maybe be shared beyond the walls of that room we were sitting in at Hebrew College. While the teens who are participating in the program this year are beyond fantastic, there are so many others all across the country—and world—who are not participating and need to realize that they have the potential to be just as amazing as those who I get to work with. This entire generation truly gives me so much hope and JTFGB has allowed me to see a small fraction of that hope. That being said, below is my message—the message I delivered—as a note to this next generation who is full of inspiration and so enthusiastic; this generation is beyond ready to create influential changes and powerful differences in everything around them. I believe in them. We all should.
2017 (especially the end of 5777 and beginning of 5778) has been well…a lot. Wildfires raging through California. Hurricanes taking out entire communities. Flood waters increasing inch by inch in a span of a few days destroying cities. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Drought. You name a type of natural disaster and Mother Nature has found a way to give it to us within this past month. (Isn’t she kind?) Aside from these things that are completely out of our control, this country alone is facing hundreds of serious problems every single day. The opioid epidemic. Mass shootings. Poverty, hunger, homelessness. Cancer. Food insecurity. Domestic violence. climate change. Mental health. Education. LGBTQ issues. Feminism. Racism. It is truly endless. And yup, it’s the year 2017…which makes this even more overwhelming.
OK, and what’s my point? (Other than trying to make your day a bit more dark than it needs to be…sorry about that, by the way.) My point is…we’re all here today because of these issues. These terrible, heart-breaking issues that are taking over our world. But all of this clearly means something to you. There is something inside of each and every one of you teenagers sitting in front of me that makes you a caring individual who wants to change the world. I know that for a fact because I have had the opportunity to meet all of you over these last few months during your interviews and get to know a bit more about you. I have learned what each of your passions are and I am so excited to see all of you begin to interact with one another in the coming weeks as you share your different opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
Now more than ever, the world needs a generation that truly cares about taking care of it in all forms. There is a need for a generation to actually repair everything happening around us in any possible way. I am talking about a generation that is ready to be proactive and take initiative. YOU—all 70 of you—are a part of that generation. The Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston is an incredible sample of that generation—in this room together—right now. The concept of tikkun olam has never been more relevant than it is today—and tikkun olam is exactly what brought all of you here. You all want a world that is built on tikkun olam, social justice, tzedakah, gemilut chasidim, and, of course, philanthropy. In regards to the Greater Boston area, you come from all across the map with different upbringings, family structures, school settings, religious observances, and most of all, unique personalities. You may not know or feel like anyone else in this room today, but that will be changed within a matter of hours from this program.
One of my favorite quotes from Pirkei Avot is “lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena,” which roughly translates to, “You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” We obviously can’t do it all. No one can. However, with so many troubling things facing us all across the globe, it’s important to remember what we can do—especially those of us with so much privilege—to help out. I constantly remind myself that no action is too small. It took me a while to really understand that concept, but it’s true. In 5778, we should all do whatever we can and be able to recognize that we are still absolutely making a difference.
OK, so the task of diving right in and making a “difference” in your community with a large group of peers may seem overwhelming at the moment. I get it. But from what I have seen in the past from JTFGB and other Jewish teen philanthropy programs like this around the world, it will happen. You will make a difference. This is something I know.
Looking around right now, I see incredible Jewish teen leaders. I see passion, enthusiasm, nerves (which is, of course, to be expected), and so many new faces that are about to become good friends by working together and building consensus. I am so excited to share my love for this program, passion for giving back, and teach you the ins and outs of the grant-making cycle through a Jewish lens. Get ready for a wonderful year of learning and growing together!
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