Community Blog Inspiring the next generation
Growing up in Austin, Texas, Leah Goldstein knew she wanted to be a leader in the Jewish community.
She spent Sundays at religious school from kindergarten through post-confirmation; served on the board of her temple youth group; and was involved with NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement. She spent 13 years at a URJ Jewish summer camp — both as a camper and as a counselor; worked at the local JCC; and taught Hebrew and religious school. For a while, she even considered becoming a rabbi.
And for the past four years, Goldstein has been inspiring Boston-area teens to follow in her footsteps, first as coordinator and now as director of The Jewish Teen Foundation for Greater Boston, a Hebrew College program that teaches teenagers about fundraising, civic leadership, grant-making, and collective giving; and helps them to partner with nonprofits to make a difference.
“I knew I wanted to give back in some way,” she said. “I’m the type of person who gets passionate about something and holds onto it. Once I learned what a nonprofit was when I was younger, I said, ‘that’s the path I’m going to take!’”
On May 30, Goldstein, who has helped Boston-area teens raise nearly $150,000 for 22 different non-profits, will be honored with the Esther Award at Hebrew College’s annual spring fundraiser, Hebrew College Live! Stories in Honor of Our Teachers. The Esther Award is given annually to a woman who embodies Hebrew College’s commitment to Jewish learning and leadership for a pluralistic world and whose achievements as a communal and philanthropic leader have enriched the Hebrew College community through her passion for Jewish learning and living.
“Leah Goldstein is a devoted teacher and mentor who has been and continues to be an inspiration to hundreds of teens, empowering them to become part of the unfolding story of the Jewish people by nurturing their own passion for leadership, philanthropy, and social change,” said Hebrew College President Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. “As we present the Esther Award this year at our spring event honoring generations of teachers at Hebrew College, we are delighted to honor Leah and celebrate the profound impact of her holy work.”
Goldstein, a self-described “introvert” who loves baking and crafts, attributes her passion for leadership and philanthropy to her parents, whom, she says, are true pillars within their Austin Jewish community as they have always been incredibly engaged and instilled in her a sense of responsibility to give back. She grew up not only as a leader in the Jewish community, but was also active within her secular community, serving as a class officer throughout high school and participating in leadership and service programs, including Girl Scouts.
In college at the University of Denver, she earned minors in leadership and Jewish studies. She was also very active in Hillel, studied abroad in Israel, and interned at a number of Jewish organizations.
Goldstein came to Boston for a masters in nonprofit management program at Northeastern because she “wanted to move to a city with a young thriving Jewish community” and quickly got involved in CJP’s young adult programing, including LEADS, as well as Hebrew College’s young adult learning program, Eser. She worked at Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation before becoming Associate Director of Prozdor six years ago. JTFGB was launched two years later.
Goldstein said she was initially hesitant to take on the JTFGB gig, in addition to her Prozdor responsibilities, because it meant extra work, but she realized it perfectly combined her passions, skills, and experiences. Outside of work, she is also involved in Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Boston; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; sitting on the board of Samaritans, a suicide prevention and awareness organization; as well as several other mental health organizations.
“I say all the time, if I had JTFGB growing up, I would have done this throughout all four years of high school,” she said. “Teens are the people who are going to make a difference in the future and we are going to soon be relying on them, so it’s crucial to teach them now. The fact that I can play a part in that is huge.”
Each year, Goldstein divides her participants into three “boards,” who work together to pick an issue area, research nonprofits that connect to that issue area, and send requests for proposals (RFPs) to those organizations. Once grant proposals have been submitted, the teens winnow their list down and conduct local or virtual site visits to organizations to gain a first-hand look at how different organizations could soon become potential grant recipients.
Goldstein organizes a fundraising kick-off event in January, bringing in industry leaders to help students learn about fundraising. Afterwards, the students begin sending tailored solicitation emails and making pitches on the phone. Each student raises hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of dollars to add to their board’s total grant-making pool, before the boards choose organizations to receive their funding.
And throughout the process, the teens learn about philanthropy through a Jewish lens. Goldstein introduces the teens to Jewish texts, ideas, and values, including tzedakah, tikkun olam, and achrayut while helping them develop their Jewish identities and connection to the Jewish community.
As an incubator program within the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN), JTFGB receives four years of funding from Laura Lauder and The Maimonides Fund. Beginning next year, JTFGB will be a self-sustaining Hebrew College program. So this year, while teaching students about philanthropy, Goldstein has been working with an advisory council of community leaders to fundraise for the program itself.
“Leah is very special. She is a great mentor and wonderful role model to our students and alumni, including my daughter,” said Leslie Pucker, co-chair of the JTFGB Advisory Council, whose daughter was part of the program in high school. “I am so impressed by Leah’s passion for the teens and the way she teaches them about philanthropy, as well as by her dedication and incredible work ethic.”
“Over the course of three years, countless meetings, emails, site visits, and rich discussions, Leah has never wavered in her compassion and commitment to the kids of JTFGB and to the programs we support,” said Isaiah Goldsmith, of Brookline, a senior at Roxbury Latin. “Personally, Leah has been a mentor and an honest and kind adult voice to me, offering wisdom, humor, and a push whenever I have needed it. I am a better person for having had Leah around me, and the lessons she has taught and values she has instilled in me shall remain for many years to come.”
During the first three years of the program, the teens have raised and donated $146,000 to various organizations that help fight sexual assault, mental health, and substance abuse, amongst other issues. This year, the teens are seeking to raise thousands of dollars from hundreds of different donors from across the world for organizations that support immigration rights, various environment issues, and combat child abuse. This year, they will announce their grant recipients at a ceremony on May 29, 2019.
“It’s been a fun adventure. JTFGB has definitely grown every year in a different way, and I’ve personally grown as well,” said Goldstein. “I’ve worked so incredibly hard for years to build up this program that I love and am so passionate about. I’m so proud of what we have accomplished. I am so fortunate to be able to say that I love my job.”
The best part, Leah said, is seeing what the JTFGB teens get out of the program and how they want to go on to find ways to become leaders within their own communities and make .
“I get really proud. When they finish the program, a lot of the teens say, ‘I want to go work for a nonprofit,’ or ‘I can’t wait to be able to donate when I’m older.’ That melts my heart,” Goldstein said. “I love that the teens are taking what they’ve learned through JTFGB and applying it to their everyday lives. Given the world that we live in now, it gives me so much hope for the future.”
Learn more about JTFGB at Hebrew College at hebrewcollege.edu/jtfgb
Leah Goldstein will receive the Esther Award for Leadership & Philanthropy at Hebrew College’s annual fundraiser, Hebrew College Live! Stories in Honor of Our Teachers, on May 30 at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA. Event information, tickets, and celebratory gift opportunities are available at hebrewcollege/live or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.559.8764.