Growing up, the Jewish commandment of tzedakah was emphasized loudly at my house. It was put to practice each Shabbat as my sister and I deposited a few coins into our respective tin tzedakah boxes. Eventually, when those tin boxes were full, we had the (literal) privilege of allocating our money to an organization of choice.
At the Rashi School, where I spent my elementary and middle-school years, the obligation of tzedakah was similarly instilled into my mind on a regular basis starting at a young age. Tzedakah is one of Rashi’s five core values—in addition to limud (learning), kehillah (community), kavod (respect), and ruach elohim (divine spirit)—and it quickly became one of my personal core values as well. At Rashi, while we didn’t each get a personal tzedakah box like the one I had at home, we did practice the act of giving during a two-week period known as Tamchui.
Every year, Tamchui aligns on the calendar with Purim, a Jewish holiday in which social action is particularly emphasized. During the first week of Tamchui, students learn about the process of allocating money to organizations. We would meet with representatives from five pre-selected organizations, learn about their programs, the work they do, and figure out about the ways that we—as kids—could actually make a difference. Following this week of learning, there is another week devoted to making the actual allocation decision. During this time, all students in every single grade (even as young as kindergarten!), are given the opportunity to allocate their poker chips to any combination of the five organizations we had learned about. So, what are the poker chips? Well, if you give students in grades K-8 real dollar bills to allocate, who knows where they could end up! The poker chips are for the students to physically hold on to as they translate to real money; this money is actually donated by generous parents, teachers, and other affiliates of the school.
Weekly tzedakah box giving and the annual Tamchui ritual gave me a glimpse into the world of philanthropy. I was intrigued and excited by Jewish giving, yet I still had many questions about the actual processes and inner workings of philanthropy. When I heard about the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB) last year, I was immediately intrigued. I quickly applied, hoping that some of my unanswered questions would get addressed by this new and unique program. I was so excited by the prospect of fundraising, a key component of philanthropy, that was always done for me at my family Shabbat dinners and at Rashi.
I was accepted into JTFGB last year as one of the Hebrew College board members and am participating again this year, but serving on the Leadership Council with added responsibilities and the opportunity to delve even deeper into the incredible world of philanthropy. JTFGB has truly helped me to learn and understand the ins and outs of the foundation and nonprofit sector. During our monthly board meetings, I feel as though I am treated as an adult; we are actually given the responsibilities that an adult would have, while also presented with numerous entitlements and privileges that high-schoolers and other teenagers I know are rarely given. I have acquired a great deal of knowledge filled with a large collection of new vocabulary and definition—things that some adults don’t even know about: mission statements, RFPs, 501c3s, grant proposals, stewardship, and even how to conduct site visits at several different types of organizations. In addition to everything I have been learning, I have been actively doing as well. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that as a group of teens (25 of us on this year’s Hebrew College board), we collectively raise well over $20,000 to allocate three separate grants to different organizations of our choice.
However, I have realized that one of the most important takeaways from these past two years has been my true understanding of the strong connection between Judaism and philanthropy. From growing up and learning about tzedakah year after year, I of course always knew there was an association, but now that association and understanding has evolved and grown from my hands-on experience within this program. I have become even more passionate about repairing the world, social justice, and philanthropy because of JTFGB; I am driven to bring the lessons of JTFGB beyond the monthly meetings into each component of my life. JTFGB is only just the beginning for me and I am beyond grateful for the opportunities it has provided me with.
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