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News Highlights Hebrew College JTFGB Teens Award 2024 Grants

By Bridget Connor-Feldbaum
boy playing guitar

On  Sunday, May 19, 2024 Hebrew College’s Jewish Teen Foundation of Greater Boston held their ninth annual grant ceremony at Hebrew College, awarding more than $21,000 to three nonprofits focusing on the issues of affordable housing and teen mental health.

The ceremony kicked off with an energetic and moving musical performance by JTFGB Board 1 member (and aspiring Jewish song leader) Ethan Warhaftig. Ethan reflected on his appreciation for how JTFGB has enabled him and his peers to make a difference in the world right now, as teens, rather than just planning what kind of adults they will be. He led the crowd with the song “I Have A Voice” followed by the Shehechayanu prayer to mark the special occasion.

JTFGB teensJTFGB teen board members reflected on their experiences in the program, beginning with the graduating seniors who served on JTFGB’s Leadership Council. “JTFGB created an environment of thoughtful people with diverse perspectives and opinions,” Ellie Gish shared. “And I always felt like people genuinely valued what I had to say. I soon found peers with the same zeal for social justice that I possess, and everyone proves, year after year, that the passion behind JTFGB’s Jewish values can indeed impact people around the world.” Sammy Frankel added, “In the current climate, with antisemitism rising daily, being a part of a safe and supportive Jewish community is essential, and a privilege that we will always remember.”

JTFGB’s two boards both decided early in the year to fund at least one organization working in Israel. Board 1 chose to focus on the issue of housing, and awarded a grant of $10,416.09 to Tenufa Bakehila, an Israeli nonprofit that repairs and renovates homes for Israel’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Speaking via video from Israel, Tenufa Bakehila’s founding director Gabi Nachmani said, “I guarantee you that your donation is going to go to change the lives of 25 families living in Southern Israel, in the range of the enemy missiles. These 25 families are living in difficult conditions not only because of the war, but because they come from poverty stricken families and are living in dilapidated homes…our goal is that these families will live in a dignified, safe and fixed home.”

Board 2 chose to focus on the issue of Teen Mental Health. They split their grant pool, awarding grants of $5,477.82 each to ELEM: Youth in Distress Israel and Kyle Cares. Teen board member Cole Shulkin described how ELEM’s Breathing Spaces programs are responding to the needs of teens living through the trauma of October 7 and the ongoing war. “We were very intrigued by their breathing spaces program in Israel, which gives kids from all different ages a place where they can go and hang out. This aligns with our mission statement as they are definitely making resources for teens in Israel who are seeking help a lot more accessible.”

ELEM’s CEO, Liora Attias-Hadar, received the grant and shared how moved she was to see how the JTFGB teens were motivated to help teens in Israel. Teen board member Addison Oken introduced Kyle Cares: “From the moment of our site visit, it was very clear how much we all believed in this organization and wanted to help. Kyle Cares is a non-profit organization that nurtures and assists conversations about teen mental health… They align with our mission because they are spreading awareness about teen mental health and making a real difference.”

Accepting the award, Jim and Sue Johnson described how they founded Kyle Cares after their son, Kyle Johnson, died by suicide six years ago. The foundation is now working in high schools throughout New England to promote wellness and to help teens learn how to assist their peers in reaching out for help. JTFGB’s grant will help to fund their annual conference in Gillette Stadium in April, 2025.

Community support enables JTFGB to continue to make an impact while giving teens an unforgettable learning experience guided by Jewish values. In the words of graduating senior Erika Hicks, “JTFGB taught me how large of an impact such a young group of Jewish teens could make in the greater world which altered my perspective on how I can personally help change the world. And now I know that I can.”

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