Connecting Jewish Youth to Their Faith through Giving
By Wayne Green
At Lake Institute on Faith & Giving we are interested in working at the intersection of faith, philanthropy, and emerging adults. Honeycomb has been a partner with Lake and a conversation leader around these themes. Wayne Green’s essay below inspires all of us in thinking about the traditions and values that inform our giving across faith traditions.
What does our giving say about us? This is a good question for teens to ask themselves as they begin their journey of learning to do philanthropy well.
As adults and educators working with teens, there are important questions to ask ourselves as well. How do we represent our experiences and learnings from childhood with the teens with whom we work? What are the core principles of religion, ‘ah-ha’ moments from our experiences, stories shared from grandparents and ancestors long gone, and the family and faith traditions that inspire us to act to make change for good today? How can we inspire youth to draw on these questions during their philanthropic journey?
Educating with Jewish Values
Jewish youth philanthropy is a collective grantmaking experience, enabling participants to learn deeply about their communities, examine their relationships to Jewish values, make strategic decisions, and ultimately allocate resources that will enrich people’s lives. Collective grantmaking also seeks to support the internal development of individuality and one’s values, with external expression and the action of giving. This practice allows the mirroring of one’s internal self out to the external world. When done well and with thoughtful curation, this combination of experiences allows teens to flourish.
The 2019 “GenZ Now: Understanding and Connecting with Jewish Teens Today Study” showed that teen participation in Jewish youth serving organizations contributed not only to teens deepening their connection to being Jewish but also to feeling good about themselves, deepening relationships with their loved ones (family, friends, mentors), and feeling empowered to make change in the world. Jewish youth philanthropy is a pinnacle of involvement that captures the essence of this opportunity for teens. Understanding core Jewish values and a strengthening of Jewish identity and connection to community offers teens meaning and understanding of why we give, and inspires them to act (and give) in accordance with an authentic personal journey through their Jewish faith.
Empowering Jewish Teens
My organization Honeycomb (formerly Jewish Teen Funders Network) is the leading resource for all educational content, resources and experiences to help educators, professionals, parents and organizations to engage youth in strategic grantmaking. Honeycomb’s vision is to create generations of engaged, empowered, and experienced Jewish changemakers and givers.
From specialty training sessions, to curriculum and tools, Honeycomb provides educators across different settings the skill development and resources they need in order to run their youth philanthropy programs. Philanthropic engagement gives Jewish youth the opportunity to tackle the problems they see today, while building a new generation of Jewish community leaders and givers. Honeycomb developed an educational model in order to guide educators and their youth through the journey of youth philanthropy. Through the lens of this unique approach of a four phase model, seven Jewish values, 12 Mitzvot (Jewish principles of practice) and 22 Justice Issues, our approach includes a wealth of activities, tools, games, lesson plans and expert content to suit any youth philanthropy program, big or small. These core elements underpin the teens learning about who they are, and how to express Judaism through action.
On Honeycomb’s most recent podcast episode, ‘Outside the Tzedakah Box’, teen philanthropist and member of Honeycomb’s Youth Ambassador Council, Jordana Hozman said, “The unique ability for teens and young people to make a tangible impact [is what drove me to become involved in teen philanthropy]….when I heard about the idea of teen philanthropy in general and then that paired with Jewish values, it was a compelling opportunity for me to be able to learn about nonprofits and then actually be able to raise money and allocate funds.” According to Honeycomb’s latest research of its network’s impact, Just Teens: Transforming Tzedakah into Grantmaking, teen foundations awarded nearly $1 million in grants with a priority allocation of 61% awarded to Jewish and Israeli organizations. Priority funding areas included poverty, education, and Jewish identity. Anecdotal evidence also indicates teen commitment to the environment and racial equality. Teens today are highly aware of the issues in society, both domestically and internationally, as they are bombarded with information, stories and images on their social media feeds. As educators and parents, our responsibility is to harness this awareness and offer factual information and real solutions through philanthropic engagement as a pathway for positive self-expression and making change.
Over the past few years, Jewish Americans have been looking to diversify ways to connect to their Jewish faith other than what we have typically deemed as traditional ways. According to the newest Pew Research Center Survey on Jewish Americans in 2020, only about one-in-ten Jewish Americans (12%) say they attend religious services at least weekly in a synagogue, temple or less formal setting. In 2020, according to a Gallup Poll Social Series survey, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999. With fewer than half of U.S. adults belonging to a religious congregation for the first time in 80 years, there has never been a more crucial time to engage communities with their faith in a unique and engaging way. Many Jews share that they don’t go to religious services because they “express [their] Jewishness in other ways,” engaging in cultural activities, at least on occasion.
Honeycomb’s model of philanthropy has now expanded to offer more experiences for families to enrich their incorporation of Judaism into their lives and into their family giving. In this past year, Honeycomb launched the Opening The Dor program (supported by The Sephardic Foundation on Ageing) to engage seniors and grandparents in building relationships with teens and becoming more active participants in shared Jewish community practices and activities.
Understanding Jewish values and exploring them through immersive giving experiences offers learning opportunities to bring Jewish traditions, culture, and ritual into practice. These experiences, which are learned and then refined and mastered over time, offer an opportunity for giving throughout one’s life. The act of strategic grantmaking based on Jewish values and identity can offer a lifetime of Jewish meaning, purpose, and engagement. The future of philanthropy is now. It is fueled by young people who learn strategically about how to practice their responsibility as future wealth generators, and potential wealth inheritors, to make an impact and allocate funds wisely.