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Youth grants promote Jewish generosity
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Youth grants promote Jewish generosity

Iris program alumnae get incentive funding for service projects

Beth Moretzsky will use an Iris Tzedakah grant on training for herself and another participant, so they can learn to train others to become “agents of change.”
Beth Moretzsky will use an Iris Tzedakah grant on training for herself and another participant, so they can learn to train others to become “agents of change.”

Introducing young people to the challenges and satisfactions of philanthropy is one thing; keeping their philanthropy within the Jewish fold is another. 

A local program that trains high school students in the collaborative process of effective philanthropy put out a call encouraging alumni to brainstorm ideas for doing good in the Jewish world. 

Now three young people have been given a total of $3,000 to realize their ideas for Jewish-oriented projects.

The three, Ariela Lovett, Beth Moretzsky, and Alexa Smith, are all alumnae of the two-year Iris Teen Tzedakah Program. The program is administered by The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life and funded by the Herb Iris Youth and Family Philanthropy Endowment of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

Their proposals were selected by teens currently involved in the tzedaka training program.

“We wanted the teens to see that we will still have their backs, and they can continue to make a difference after they’ve graduated from the program,” said Robert Lichtman, executive director of The Partnership.

The idea for the new grants, he said, came from Roree Iris-Williams, whose family’s foundation provides the basic funding for the program. 

Participants in the teen program pool donations of their own with matching funds from the Iris Youth and Family Philanthropy Endowment, and then together decide how to allocate the money to organizations here and abroad, in keeping with the principles and traditions of Jewish community service.

To assess its impact, last fall a questionnaire was sent to those who have participated since its inception in 2006. Lichtman said they responded with expressions of “strong gratitude about the experience, and talked about how it shaped their world view and their involvement in the community.” 

Many of the alumni mentioned that they are still active in terms of charity, but their involvement “was all over the map.” Iris-Williams suggested that the family provide the new funding to encourage them to return to a Jewish-oriented focus.

Applicants had to come up with an idea and a Jewish agency to work with, and provide detailed research on how they planned to use the money.

“They also have to commit to taking an active part in the project going forward,” Lichtman said.

Ariela Lovett, a 2007 graduate of Livingston High, took part in the Iris program during her last two years of high school. Now 25 and living in Manhattan, she had been looking for ways to engage young Jews in philanthropic endeavors. 

Her proposed project is a workshop/lecture series on philanthropy that she will offer to fellow alumni of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, in New York City.

“I was so inspired by my experience with the Iris Teen Tzedakah program,” she said, “that I felt the AVODAH community could benefit from a similar but less time-intensive educational experience related to philanthropy and Jewish values/social justice.”

Lovett addressed the current Iris cohort at their end-of-year celebration. She had the opportunity to tell them about her own Iris experience, and to thank them for choosing her AVODAH project. “I am hopeful that some of them will pursue careers in social justice as well, and that all will incorporate what they have learned in the program into the various spheres of their lives,” she said.

Moretzsky, 23, was an Iris participant in 2006-2008, her sophomore and junior years at Randolph High School. Now living in Washington, DC, she is working as a research assistant at a health-care consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.

“I will be partnering with Sixth & I, a non-denominational, non-membership, non-traditional synagogue that seeks to engage individuals in their 20s and 30s,” she wrote in an e-mail to NJ Jewish News. “Our project, entitled ‘Community Organizing Leaders,’ will train myself and an additional leader in community organizing techniques. Training will be led by JOIN for Justice, a nonprofit that focuses on strengthening community organizing skills of Jewish leaders.” 

Looking back on her Iris Teen experience, Beth said, “It helped me to figure out how to write a strong grant application of my own both in and after college, and laid a strong foundation for critical engagement with many different nonprofit organizations.”

Alexa Smith, 17, a senior at Livingston High School, participated in the Iris teen program during her freshman and sophomore years, and is now a participant in the Diller Teen Fellowship, a Jewish leadership program administered locally by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. She applied for and received two alumni grants, one of which will be used on a trip to Israel this summer, where she will lead a service project to promote understanding between Diller teens and Ethiopian teens in Rishon Letzion. 

“Approximately 30 Ethiopian teens will teach the Dillers how to mountain bike,” she told NJJN. “Then 70 Israeli, American, and Ethiopian teens will make back-to-school care packages for 70 preschoolers in the integrated nursery program at the matnas [or] community center. We will also collaborate making two wall murals to demonstrate our unity. One mural will remain on display at the matnas and the other will be brought back to MetroWest.”

Her second grant is to help her start a not-for-profit T-shirt business, working with 11th and 12th graders from Temple Emanu-El in Livingston to benefit the National Gaucher Foundation and raise awareness of a disease which disproportionately affects Ashkenazi Jews.

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