Community Blog Making Time, Not Wasting Time: Teen Philanthropy at Prozdor

By Daniel Brosgol

Dan BrosgolTime is a scarce resource.

And it’s getting scarcer as the world provides us with any number of ways to waste it. And if you think the age of technology and going to bed with your tablet gives us adults ample opportunity to be distracted, imagine how many more ways teens can spend time doing absolutely nothing at all.

Case in point: Twitch. You know what Twitch is? It’s an online platform that allows you to broadcast your own video game play, or watch other people play their own video games online. And before we shake our heads in a sky-is-falling fashion, let’s consider that the site gets over 100 million unique visitors a month. To watch other people play video games. Unreal.

I’m sure many of you struggle, as I do, to balance your Facebooking and Tweeting with real, in-person interactions, and that’s as a digital immigrant, not a digital native. Imagine how much more innate that digital interaction is for a teen. Everything we ask teens to do is competing against not just their schoolwork and sports/dance/music/art involvements, but also the constant pull of connectivity and social media.

In our work we constantly seek to understand how and why teens (and their parents) make choices, how they decide to spend their time and money, and to what degree the Jewish part of their identity and everyday lives provides a compelling argument for investment. And I get it. Their lives are way busier than mine was over a half a lifetime ago. Teens are busier and more stressed than ever, and in their crucibles of college applications, practices, AP tests, and relationships, where’s the time for Judaism?  Making the case for getting off of 4G LTE and on to the Jewish thing is our job, and it’s hard; the pull of the text message is a lot greater than that of a Jewish text.


Not surprisingly, we hear and observe a great deal from teens about their desire to spend shorter amounts of time on Judaism. While we could lament that, we also understand that teens are willing to invest their time in Jewish learning and Jewish experiences, provided that they are high-quality, skill-building, and serious. With that in mind, we are constantly seeking to engage and educate teens in a wide variety of programs that are finely-tuned to their specific needs and desires, including our academic program on Sunday mornings, various online learning offerings, a number of travel and volunteer experiences, and, new for this year, a teen philanthropy board.

Prozdor is thrilled to partner this year with both Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Gann Academy in the design and launch of the Jewish Teen Foundation of Great Boston (JTFGB). Based on some very successful work done by the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) and the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) over the past several years in creating and training boards of teens to learn about fundraising and the work of Jewish federations, our three organizations were chosen by JTFN to lead the Boston-area teen foundation incubator, which got underway this year.

In an era when educators, planners, and institutions bemoan the decline of numbers across Jewish educational and engagement offerings, we are thrilled to report that 35 teens from across Greater Boston were accepted into JTFGB this year after a serious and collaborative marketing and recruitment effort over the late spring and summer. These teens represent over 12 different high schools, come from as far away as Holden and Swampscott, Massachusetts, and have committed to once-a-month sessions that last three hours each.

The Foundation Board Incubator focuses on launching teen foundations housed in community organizations (such as federations and community foundations) which allow for building pluralistic and diverse teen boards. Prozdor, CJP, and Gann benefit from their partnership with JTFN in development and implementation of their program in addition to coaching on opportunities for scaling and growth. JTFN also provides a framework of curriculum—from orientation and mission statement development, to fundraising and learning about non-profit operations, proposal review and site visits to institutions, and ultimately a consensus based allocations process—and program components including family programming, teen leadership experiences, and alumni programming.

This year, the JTFGB year began with a 6-hour kickoff event in late October at Gann Academy, where all of the participants came for an intensive afternoon of orientation, group-building, and framing of the JTFGB experience as a Jewish educational program.

The second session took place in mid-November, with both sites choosing their core issue and developing their mission statement to frame their work for the rest of the year. The Hebrew College board selected poverty as their core issue, and the Gann Academy board chose education.

As a next step at the December meeting, both boards will welcome special guest speakers who are experts in how communities, federations, philanthropists, and non-profits deal with the core issues of poverty and education, and will go through a robust and intensive process of site visits, RFP review, and allocations as spring gets underway. The pilot year of the Boston-area incubator will wrap up in late spring with a concluding ceremony at Hebrew College.

As this program has gotten underway it was thrilling to see the momentum grow towards the kickoff event, and inspiring to see such a talented and dynamic group of teens come together under these auspices. As we reviewed the applications, interviewed the candidates, and got to know the participants over the course of the first three sessions, it became clear that we have struck gold with this program—not only tapping into a vein of passion and interest for this generation of teens, but also by identifying a cohort that will undoubtedly become the future leaders of our community.

Daniel Brosgol is the Director of Prozdor, the high school of Hebrew College.

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