The Jewish Community Youth Foundation over the last 12 years has turned thousands of teens into young philanthropists who have donated a total of $605,090, benefiting local and national charitable organizations and others in Israel.
This year more than 170 teens — representing 17 synagogues, 12 middle schools, and 21 high schools from throughout Mercer and Bucks counties — distributed more than $72,000.
During a Feb. 22 ceremony at Robbinsville High School, almost 700 turned out to watch check presentations to representatives of 57 organizations and hear from two JCYF alumni, one enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy, the other a student at Princeton University.
A project of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, JCYF is supported by the Ricky and Andrew J. Shechtel Philanthropic Fund and the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks.
“It’s wonderful to see how this program has grown tremendously over the years,” founder Ricky Shechtel told NJJN, recalling that in its first year it drew just 13 students. She also pointed out that this is the first check presentation ceremony that was entirely student-led.
Through the program, JCYF members, in grades eight-12, are asked to contribute $120 each, which is matched by the federation and the Shechtel Fund, with the students researching an array of Jewish and Israeli organizations and deciding how to disburse the money.
JFCS provides guidance on the performance of tikun olam (repairing the world), acts of tzedaka, and other ethical teachings.
The presentations covered a large swath of Jewish philanthropy, encompassing educational and cultural programs; services helping the elderly, the needy, special-needs children, and immigrants; and organizations that benefit Israelis.
Jeff Lipkin, director of donor research and grants for the American Friends of Magen David Adom — Israel’s Red Cross — which received $4,500 for its youth training program from the JCYF 12th-graders, said, “We’re very pleased the teens saw the program and understood the vital part Magen David Adom plays in saving lives in Israel. It is one of the largest volunteer organizations in Israel, and about a third of those volunteers are teens.”
Many in attendance cited the skills honed and values inculcated through JCYF, including development of leadership abilities, a lifelong connection to the Jewish community, empathy for others, and a strong sense of Jewish identity.
Wendy Woloshin of Yardley, Pa., said her daughter Stephanie, one of the 30 JCYF seniors, grew in a number of ways during her years in the program.
“I think it’s a wonderful organization that strengthens the Jewish community,” Woloshin said. “I believe my daughter will incorporate many of the things she learned here into many aspects of life.”
Emily Strober, 16, of West Windsor said she learned how to make informed decisions about how to handle money. “I learned a lot about philanthropy,” said the 11th-grader and member of Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction.
“I developed empathy for others,” said Leo Hampel, a ninth-grader who belongs to Congregation Kol Emet in Yardley. “It helped me to understand Jewish organizations and gain respect for other organizations.”
Two former JCYF members who clearly internalized the values the program aims to nurture addressed the gathering: Darren Freedman of East Windsor, now a junior midshipman at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and Molly Fisch-Friedman of Princeton Junction, a junior at Princeton University, who received the JCYF Distinguished Alumni Award.
Freedman came to the ceremony with his parents, Peter and Carolyn, congregants at Beth Chaim.
Calling JCYF “a leadership academy,” he told those gathered that going through the program provided him with tools and standards prized at Annapolis, such as leadership abilities and a sense of honor and dedication, and strengthened his Jewish values.
In JCYF, “we were all given the opportunity to expand our knowledge of Judaism,” said the Hightstown High School graduate. “I arrived at the academy as one of 50 Jewish midshipmen in a school of 5,000, and for many of them, I was the first Jew they had ever met. My roommate my first year was from Nebraska, and I realized his opinion of the Jewish community was derived from me.”
Fisch-Friedman is president of Koleinu, the university’s Jewish a cappella choir, and of Koach, the Conservative minyan at Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life/Hillel. She is a longtime teacher of Hebrew and Judaica at her congregation, String of Pearls in Princeton, and was a Goldman Fellow at the American Jewish Committee.
“Participating in JCYF gave me a greater sense of the importance of maintaining a connection to many Jewish communities,” she said.