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,” admits the Shipley School rising junior. Through his aunt, however, Isaac 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. Isaac, 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,” says Isaac. “I didn’t even know what the word tzedakah meant! It seemed like a fun opportunity to learn and grow.”
Utilizing concepts like Maimonides’ tzedakah levels and tikkun olam, Isaac 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 Proposal, 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,” says Isaac, who plans to return to the Teen Giving Project next year to build his skills further. “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,” says Isaac. “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 Isaac Keiser as he actively seeks to make a positive difference in his world. We should all aspire to be as informed as Isaac.
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.