Jewish Teens Today Care About Their Community Needs

Photo courtesy Teen Giving Project at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, a program of the JTFN Foundation Board Incubator.

By Wayne Green

When we think about Jewish teens today, they represent incredible diversity in who they are and how they navigate through the world, their community, their family and importantly, how they wish to express their Jewish identity through giving back. In the recent study, Just Teens: Transforming Tzedakah into Grantmaking, 2017-2018 by the Jewish Teen Funders Network, we gain valuable insight into how teens involved in Jewish teen philanthropy programs give and engage within the Jewish community.

Jewish teen philanthropists give with intentionality and have a strong connection to their Jewish community. Based on responses from over 60% of Jewish teen foundations within the network, it was shown that through strong Jewish identity building and learning about issues facing their local Jewish community, programs’ giving aligned strongly with investment in one’s own community.

Some Jewish teen philanthropy programs set parameters on giving. These parameters are guidelines which help to frame the grantmaking process and may include giving to local, global, Jewish or Israel organizations. In the study, it was shown that when no parameters were set, teens continued to focus on Jewish connection and community building which resulted in 61% of dollars being allocated to Jewish and Israel organizations.

Teen philanthropy programs are instilled with purposeful Jewish learning and are designed to offer a unique experience for understanding Jewish values and how Tzedakah and giving back to community is a fundamental component of Jewish identity. From the Just Teens study, programs across the network exhibited a strong commitment to delivering in depth experiences that highlight the core principles of giving guided by Jewish values. The top three Jewish values teens most identified to guide their giving included Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World), Tzedakah (Righteous giving) and Kehillah (Community). These three collective values highlight fundamental questions teens are asking themselves today – “What connects me to my community? How can I be responsible and affect change in the world around me?”

Jewish teen philanthropy programs provide teens with autonomy to identify where, how, and why to give. It is through this call to action that teens are addressing some of the major issues facing communities across North America and globally today. In the Just Teens study, the top three grantmaking issue areas selected by teens included poverty, education and Jewish identity. In the same way that adult philanthropists grapple with big-picture issues, these teens are exhibiting a similar process to navigate and understand giving with intentionality.

Further research from the Just Teens study showed programs allocated nearly 1 million dollars with grantmaking pools ranging from $500 up to $187,000. In many cases, teen foundations with access to larger grantmaking pools allocated multiple grants to various organizations that aligned with their mission. Regardless of the amount, taking part in an authentic giving experience allowed teens to give in an intentional way, where research, community needs and Jewish education was at the center of their decision making.

Jewish teen philanthropy is providing Jewish teens the opportunity to engage and bond with their community, stand up as proud Jewish changemakers and be inspired to harness the power of philanthropy in the world today.

The Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) is the central resource for Jewish Teen Philanthropy. If you would like to learn more about the JTFN Just Teens Study or our programs, please contact Wayne Green, Director, wayne@jtfn.org