Teen Philanthropy: Bat Mitzvah Edition

By Renanit Levy

If you’ve ever planned a bar or bat mitzvah, you know that it is easy to get caught up in the details of the party. What will the logo look like? What kind of appetizers will we serve? What color should the linens on the tables and the flowers on the bima be? How many kinds of candy should we serve at the candy bar? Keeping the real meaning of the event at the forefront can feel elusive.

As a mother going through the bat mitzvah process for the first time and as a professional who has dedicated my career to Jewish philanthropy and community building, I was determined not to get so caught up in the details of party planning that my family would end up missing the deeper significance of my oldest entering Jewish adulthood.

I had a real aha moment at the Amplifier Convening in Summer 2017, after having attended sessions on teen philanthropy and pop-up giving circles: we would do a pop-up teen giving circle at the bat mitzvah! I was hopeful that this would bring some of the deeper meaning of the day to my daughter and her friends, helping them think beyond themselves as my daughter transitioned into becoming a full member of the Jewish community.

My daughter was excited about the idea but, as teenagers sometimes are, also a little reluctant to do something “different.” I assured her it would be not only meaningful, but fun, and I set out to make it just that. She chose three charitable causes that were dear to her, and I created a streamlined two-sided sheet describing the causes as well as the outline of a simple, accessible giving circle process. Each kid would get 2 poker chips worth $5. The kids would be divided into teams, each of which would pick one cause to donate to as a group; each individual could pick the same or another cause to which to donate their second poker chip personally. The most popular cause would be matched by the bat mitzvah’s proud parents.

I then worked with our party DJ, who had never heard of the idea of a giving circle, to integrate the giving circle process into the actual party, adding music to the background and seamlessly incorporating it into the evening’s festivities. I think he was even more excited than I was about bringing this to the kids as part of the night’s festivities.

As I promised my daughter, the giving circle was fun and most importantly, the kids loved it! The DJ read the instructions and played background music as the teams deliberated; all were engaged and the team conversations was animated. The winners were then announced with pomp and flair by the party coordinator. In the end, the winner was clear, with the JCC of Puerto Rico winning by a landslide with 52 poker-chip votes (Masbia received 21 votes, and UJA-Federation of New York received 7 votes). In the wake of recent devastation by Hurricane Maria, it was not surprising that, among three organizations doing critical work, this very tangible cause felt most compelling to teens as they considered how to give back.

The pop-up giving circle was a fun, low-barrier, and fast (less than 10 minutes of party time!) way to incorporate meaning, empower the kids to think of themselves as philanthropists, give back as a group and remember our blessings as our daughter became a full member of our community. If you are thinking of a way to bring an even deeper meaning to your simcha, a pop-up giving circle could be just the thing.

Renanit Levy is the founder and principal of R.Levy Consulting, partnering with leadership to advance institutions across the Jewish community, and the proud mother of three daughters. One bat mitzvah down, two to go! She can be contacted at rlevyconsulting@gmail.com.