Before becoming part of the Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston (JTFGB) last year, I didn’t really have too many Jewish friends. I go to a small private school, where I am one of only four Jewish students in my grade. It got to the point where I felt like my Judaism was just not a large enough part of my identity during this formative time of my life. Fast forward a year and a half, I am participating in JTFGB once again, but now as a member of the Leadership Council, and I can genuinely say that I am part of such an incredible community of Jewish teens from all over the Greater Boston Area.

When I became part of the foundation in the fall of 2015, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that we were going to be learning about philanthropy, fundraising, nonprofit organizations, and how it all tied into Judaism—but I did not know the depth of what we would learn, the amazing people I would meet along the way, and the impact it would have on my life.

Over the course of last year, I learned about many of the different aspects within the nonprofit sector—and most importantly, how they receive funding. I learned that foundations just like JTFGB essentially ask nonprofit organizations if they would like money (from a grant) through a request for proposal (RFP) and then decide where those dollars would be most useful. Another important skill I learned was how to determine if an organization is credible and is serving its actual purpose for the community or specific issue area it claims it does.

Adam Berk and Sam Cantor hard at work.

Although I could continue to go on listing the many things I learned about nonprofits and all of the important takeaways from the education and hands-on experience that was provided over the course of the program, JTFGB is about so much more. I believe that the most important part of our foundation is the teens that make up the board. Our board is comprised of a large group of diverse, genuine, passionate, hard-working teens who really want to make a change in the world. Every month we meet for three hours and discuss our Jewish values, philanthropy, and the intersection between these significant ideas. We consider questions like “What are some of the most fundamental Jewish values to complete our work as a board?” and “How do our Jewish values affect the decisions we make as a board (and individuals in our everyday lives)?”

Even though we have only had four meetings this year, the discussions that have taken place and the questions that have been raised make me realize what a unique opportunity this program truly is. Within this short period of time, we have already become such a close group through the consensus building skills we have had to work through. JTFGB has taught me that consensus building can be challenging, especially with 25 very different teen opinions around the table, but certainly a useful tool; we managed to do it during the process of deciding on our board’s issue and focus area for the year (which is domestic violence) and crafting a mission statement based around that with the (Jewish) values we find to be most relevant.

That process of crafting the statement was a really amazing experience for me. As everyone contributed so many different ideas and opinions, we knew that it was ultimately the most important for us to clearly explain who we are, why we are doing this and what we want to accomplish as a board this year. In order to explicitly state our mission, we carefully considered everything that would be included—how we worded absolutely everything, the order of our sentences, and the information that was being delivered. As a member of the Leadership Council, I had the role of facilitating this conversation and found myself really pushing everyone to the next level. I made sure that every board member was always able to have their voice heard be an active participant in the conversation. It was a great opportunity for me to utilize the leadership skills that I have been developing throughout this program amongst a fairly large group of my peers.

As time goes on, I continue to discover so many new things about myself, my Jewish values and this passion I have for giving back. Serving on the Leadership Council this year, I am beyond enthusiastic and eager to pass on the knowledge and skills I have acquired to the new members. I truly hope that with the help of my leadership, this year’s board will become just as—if not even more—passionate about philanthropy and tzedakah as I am. I know that this is a growing opportunity for me as I learn more about myself as a teen leader within my new(er) Greater Boston Jewish community and I am more than confident that the outcome of JTFGB this year will be tremendously rewarding for everyone involved.

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