There are two main ways to give back to your community. The first being time, through volunteering, and the second being money, through donations. The Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) has found a way for students to do both and have fun while doing so. This has been accomplished in the form of their B’nai Tzedek program.
The B’nai Tzedek program was started in 1999 by Harold Grinspoon, a Jewish philanthropist from Springfield, Mass. The main idea behind the program was to utilize the money that teens receive for their B’nai Mitzvahs to create charitable accounts. This idea quickly spread in JCFs throughout the United States, who quickly began to incorporate the program. Many of these organizations proceeded to raise money so that grants made to these accounts could be matched to a certain extent.
However, Kansas City’s own B’nai Tzedek program has flourished exceptionally in comparison to that of many other Jewish communities. The program is able to match the $125. dollars required to start an account with $375 dollars, turning a charitable fund originally worth $125 dollars to an account worth $500 dollars. If this account is started prior to the B’nai Mitzvah, then instead of giving money as a gift, friends and family members can give directly to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah’s fund. This allows money to accumulate quickly, and gives options to those who want to show support through a gift, but want their gift to go to a good cause.
After the account has been made and money has been added, the account recipient is given 10 percent of their account value to donate each year until the age of 35. This means that every year, anyone with an account is allocated money to donate to a local Jewish organization of their choosing. Although a community organization is preferred, donations to Israeli organizations or other Jewish organizations are also permitted.
Although these grants can be made throughout the year, Kansas City’s B’nai Tzedek program makes most of their grants during its annual Shuk. The Shuk is an event where teens with or without accounts come together to see presentations curated by community organizations, make their grants, and enjoy dinner and Dippin’ Dots. This event has proven successful as it has given many teens the opportunity to make their grants or open funds.
Beatrice Fine, JCF’s Director of Funder Services and Education is one of the major leaders behind this program. “Our goal is to educate people about philanthropic causes that make our Jewish community strong,” Fine states, and “to help our community’s young adults understand that the Jewish community does not exist without young people supporting it.” Today over 600 B’nai Tzedek accounts have been created through Kansas City’s program.
Although enriching to the holder of the account, the program also offers a unique volunteering opportunity. High schoolers are able to become members of the B’nai Tzedek Youth Council. The council is a unique opportunity to recruit upcoming children reaching B’nai Mitzvah age to create their own account, or remind those who already have an account to make their yearly 10 percent grant. The council meets once a month, and serves as a truly unique way for students to not only give back to the community through their own funds, but also by helping other people give back. Fine states the main purpose for the council is “leadership development,” although it still has other major benefits.
Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA) junior Zachary Liss is a member of the Youth Council, and an account holder himself. Liss learned of the program through his attendance of the Shuk prior to his Bar Mitzvah, as his parents had started him an account. “I think it’s very important to give back to the community,” Liss states, “and we should do whatever we can.”
This year’s Shuk, though online, showed excellent engagement, and according to Fine, the Shuk’s website registered over 135 clicks. This shows engagement far superseding the usual near 40 attendees of the in-person Shuk. The Shuk was also responsible for over 1,800 dollars being donated to support Ukraine. Programs like B’nai Tzedek are able to shape the future leaders of our Jewish community to be philanthropic and care about the issues facing the world around them.
This article was originally published on April 29, 2022 in RampageWired.