Not long ago, 16-year-old Isaac Keiser didn’t fully grasp the concept of Jewish giving.
“If someone said ‘charity,’ I would think of a bake sale,” admitted the Shipley School rising junior. Through his aunt, however, Keiser heard about an appealing new Jewish Federation program called the Teen Giving Project, an eight-month curriculum in which he’d learn about Jewish values, communication and decision-making skills alongside 29 of his peers, culminating in the real-life challenge of raising and allocating real-life grant money.
Keiser, who has a passion for political and social causes, took the challenge.
“I’d like to make an impact on the world somehow. But if I’m going to be a leader, I knew I needed to be better informed,” Keiser said. “I didn’t even know what the word tzedakah meant! It seemed like a fun opportunity to learn and grow.”
Using concepts like Maimonides’ tzedakah levels and tikkun olam, Keiser and his peers discussed the notion of giving Jewishly. By consensus, they determined causes they wished to fund. Then they went through each grant-making step by conducting research, creating a request for proposals and then fielding grant applications. They even learned how to read organizational and program budgets and made site visits.
Finally, the teens chose eight nonprofit organizations to whom to grant their money — and raised a whopping $28,500 for them.
“I’m really proud of what we accomplished,” said Keiser, who plans to return to the Teen Giving Project next year to further build his skills. “I can definitely say I’m doing something for my Jewish community and that I’ve learned how to give using my Jewish beliefs.”
The lessons he learned reach outside the classroom — both about Jewish identity and about knowledge-driven decision-making. “Making informed decisions is really important,” Keiser said. “Especially in this digital age, where there’s so much misinformation out there, being able to find the facts and understand and evaluate them is so crucial.”
It’s an important tool for Keiser as he actively seeks to make a positive difference in the world. We should all aspire to be as informed.
When you are informed, you take the time to gather and analyze information — crucial to making well-reasoned decisions, and key to taking impactful action.
For more information about the Teen Giving Project, visit Jewishphilly.org/teengivingproject.
Female Hebrew Benevolent Society: Emergency Aid for Women Since 1819
Joyce needed help right away. A 57-year-old single Jewish woman, Joyce suffered from a raft of health problems — depression, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pancreatitis that resulted in diabetes — and though she managed to work part time, she was struggling with financial strain.
She had filed for disability, but while her application remained in limbo, Joyce could scarcely pay the $500 a month for her rented room in Lansdale. She needed rent money — and fast. She found it in an age-old safety net: The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society (FHBS).
Founded in 1819 to help “indigent sisters of the house of Israel,” the Jewish Federation-supported FHBS is America’s oldest continuously-run Jewish charitable organization.
“Emergency aid has been at our core since 1819,” FHBS President Eileen Sklaroff said. Back when the organization was founded by the women of Congregation Mikveh Israel and guided by Rebecca Gratz, that emergency aid meant delivering firewood or food. Today, the Emergency Aid program provides small grants (averaging about $465) to cover basic needs in a financial crisis, like mortgage payments, utility bills, doctors’ bills and health insurance.
“When you see the difference it makes, you have to get passionate about helping these women,” said Sklaroff, who, like every member of FHBS, serves as a dedicated volunteer.
In its last fiscal year, FHBS distributed $128,449 to 203 women through its various programs, including its Emergency Response Systems program, which provides wearable pendants for older Jewish women that summon an emergency responder at the push of a button.
“I have a waiting list of 11 women right now,” Sklaroff said. “I cannot sleep at night knowing people need this device.”
As for Joyce’s crisis over rent money? Over the course of a year and a half, Joyce received eight FHBS grants of $250 each toward her rent. When at last she began receiving Social Security disability benefits, FHBS continued sending $200 rent checks to her landlord for a few months more to help smooth Joyce’s transition to self-sufficiency.
Sklaroff said, “As the saying goes, ‘There but for fortune go you or I.’”
To learn more about the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, visit fhbs.org.