Cara and Keely are a part of The Honeycomb Youth Ambassador Council and wrote this piece as part of their final project for the 2021 year. Launched in 2016, the Youth Ambassador Council was created to connect Honeycomb directly with teens in the field, and learn together. Meeting virtually throughout the school year, the Youth Ambassador council empowers the teen voice by fostering relationships with representatives from the field of Jewish teen philanthropy.
Growing Up With Jewish Philanthropy
By Keely Ganong and Cara Lopatin
Winston Churchill once said, “you make a living by what you get and you make a life by what you give.” While many may read this quote and simply agree and move on, there are some that will read this and decide to act on it in attempts to improve the world. Those that do take it a step further are sure to witness benefits, both personal and societal.
This philosophy has been instilled in the life and actions of Irv Robinson, a longtime philanthropist from Kansas City. Carried through by many accomplishments, between entrepreneurship, business, and Jewish philanthropy, Robinson has led a fulfilling life. Reflecting on his own giving, Robinson recognizes why he has continued for so long.
“Philanthropy is about creating meaning for me. Some people do it out of obligation. I don’t; I do it out of wanting to make the world a better place,” Robinson said.
Giving became ingrained in Robinson’s values early on. What started with him observing his mother write out $5 checks to charities each Sunday in his youth later inspired his continued commitment to philanthropic work in his adult life.
About 20 years ago, Robinson ran a $12 million campaign to build his synagogue in Kansas City. Then recently, he co-chaired another campaign to renovate that synagogue that he helped build. These philanthropic projects in his local Jewish community meant a lot to Robinson because he was giving his time, resources, skill sets, and knowledge in order to help build and improve that community. He was grateful to be part of such a unique and impactful experience.
In 2013, Robinson founded a nonprofit program called Leadership Tomorrow as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. The goal of this paid internship is to cultivate strong, dedicated Jewish leaders and to provide them with experience and knowledge about the nonprofit and grant-making world. Robinson makes it a priority to introduce philanthropy into the lives of young leaders as he sees its importance and understands from his own experience how early exposure to philanthropy can impact a person for a lifetime.
“[Philanthropy] allows you to make a meaningful difference, and it also allows you to follow your passions and what you care about most,” Robinson said.
Most recently, Robinson has been involved as the co-president of the Mussar Institute, whose mission is to bring the teachings of Mussar, “Jewish spiritual practice working on character traits,” into the lives of others. He is currently working on raising $600,000 for new teen programming through the institute.
Throughout his life, Robinson has been involved in a multitude of philanthropic activities. As these actions impact the populations they are meant to serve, they also impact Robinson.
“I’ve come to learn patience and humility. Things take time and don’t always happen as fast as I would like. As for humility, there’s lots of people out there with good ideas and you need to listen to them. It’s not just about what you think is best. Sometimes you need to push down your ego a little bit and be humbled, ” Robinson said.
Philanthropic work done by individuals like Robinson does not go unnoticed and it is to our advantage that so many other adults take part in this kind of work. There is, however, a common misconception that philanthropy and the ability to make an impact in the world is something reserved for adults. This is not true.
Today, there are approximately 100 Jewish youth philanthropy programs throughout the world. Each of these programs functions a little differently, but in the end, they are all striving towards the same goal of teaching participants how to apply their Jewish values to the philanthropic process and its impacts, complexities, and wider significance in the world.
While philanthropists like Irv are investing in the next generation of philanthropists, the next generation is not only rising to the challenge, but they are exceeding expectations.
Jessica Goldberg, a Jewish Fund of Detroit Teen Board and Honeycomb Youth Ambassador alumna, breaks the misconceptions about philanthropy mentioned above with her early successes in the philanthropy world.
When Goldberg was just a high school freshman, she started her own nonprofit organization called Sib4Sib. Guided by her own values, she founded her organization to act as a support system for siblings of people who have mental health issues or are neurodiverse.
Through her work on the Teen Board and running her own nonprofit, Goldberg saw her horizons broaden.
“I think the benefit of philanthropy is it shows you how you can contribute to the world and also shows you problems that you may not have realized even existed,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg has gained a lot through her philanthropic endeavors and encourages others to find ways to join in on philanthropy.
“Philanthropy is an opportunity to learn about things outside your bubble,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg had to learn how to effectively collaborate with others during her time working on a teen philanthropy board. When it came time to decide which non-profits the board would fund, she, along with 35 other teens, had to work together to narrow down their pool of applicants.
“It takes some advanced compromising skills and reasoning skills to reach consensus,” Goldberg reflected.
Now a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School, Goldberg is still deciding her focus post-grad, but she recognises that her teen philanthropy experience will always be useful. The skills that developed in her youth can carry over with whatever direction she decides on.
“I don’t necessarily know if I’ll return to the nonprofit world ever in an employee managerial position, but I think philanthropy and the values of philanthropy will forever stay with me,” Goldberg said.
As teens ourselves involved in philanthropy, we have seen the ways that philanthropy has changed our communities and changed our own perspectives. Participating in teen philanthropy boards exposes us to real world issues and gives us the opportunity to make a change which is really fulfilling. Our work on our teen philanthropy boards allows us to become familiar with the different needs of our communities and with the different organizations that meet those needs. This can then provide openings for volunteer work and future career paths for us and our fellow board members as well as new holistic and realistic perspectives on our lives.
Now having seen what we are capable of as teens, we will look to inspire others, carrying the skills and values we have gained from our own philanthropy experiences. As both Irv Robinson and Jessica Goldberg conveyed, involvement in philanthropy of any kind can create a lot of meaning in a philanthropist’s life. By allowing teens to take part in philanthropic experiences early on, we are building a hopeful future that will be supported by a newly committed generation of givers. Whether it be new skills and knowledge, a sense of purpose or awareness, or even the ability to be humble and take a step outside ourselves, giving of all forms is a valuable experience not just to the recipient but to the giver as well.
Keely Ganong is an 11th grader from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has served as a board member for the Jewish Teen Foundation for the past two years and is eager to widen her perspective about philanthropy with Honeycomb. Keely also pursues writing as a reporter for her school’s newspaper and is passionate about making meaningful change in her community. The Jewish hero she looks up to most is her great grandfather David Strutin for his courage and strong familial values which brought him to America.
Cara Lopatin moved to Detroit almost 3 years ago and is a senior at Farber Hebrew Day School. As a second-year member of the Jewish Fund Teen Board, Cara is very excited to join the Honeycomb Youth Ambassador Council so that she can meet other teens engaged in the Jewish philanthropy process. Cara is also a branch head of Bnei Akiva, a Bronfman fellow, a Friendship Circle volunteer, a community builder of Kehillat Etz Chayim, and a Chai Lifeline motivational speaker as a two-time cancer survivor. A Jewish hero whom Cara looks up to is Dr. Joy Ladin.