For as long as I can remember, the spirit of tikkun olam, a central Jewish value
meaning to “repair the world,” has been a pivotal force in my life. It has
helped me see the world with compassion and clarity and has led me on a
magnificent journey. Six years ago it became the animating force behind the
creation of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards.
This annual award, which
grants five Jewish teens $36,000 each for volunteer service projects that embody
the spirit of tikkun olam, was inspired by watching my own children and their
friends as they developed an awareness of the world and people around them. As
my children grew up and had families of their own, they encouraged me to act
ever more fully on my guiding principle, that it is never too late, too early or
too often to give back and make the world a better place. That’s how the Diller
Teen Tikkun Olam Awards began.
Over the years, the award has recognized
remarkably varied projects. It is truly inspiring to see the Jewish values that
today’s teens are putting into action, from bikur cholim, or visiting the sick
to tzedakah, or justice, though sometimes translated as charity.
embracing the spirit of tikkun olam to turn love into action everywhere: in
their classrooms, on our beaches and oceans, in hospitals, in underprivileged
communities in the US and overseas. They see solutions at every turn! The 30
teens we have celebrated since 2007 are shining examples of the impact each of
us can have. We are moved every year not only by these teens’ creativity and
dedication, but also by how their Jewish identity informs their volunteerism and
helps them develop as leaders.
But could we do more? This question came
up recently for the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of
the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and
Sonoma Counties. Until now, the award has been centered on California
Imagine, we thought, if we could reach out to all 50 US states and
empower teens from coast-to-coast. And that’s just what we’re going to
Later this month, we will officially announce the national expansion
of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, and launch a 2013 call-for-nominations
campaign. We’ll be working with the Jewish Federations of North America and
their network of 155 Jewish Federations throughout the country to get the word
out as well.
This year’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipients tackled
big issues like bullying, academic achievement, and bringing aid to struggling
Israeli communities. Their words and project descriptions, included below, are a
testament to what can happen when a young person, filled with the spirit of
tikkun olam, decides to make a difference.
I invite you to read and share
these inspiring stories in your own communities, and to encourage you and your
teens to let us know about their vision for repairing the world.
share the responsibility of fostering the next generation and instilling values
that move our world and humanity forward. Do you know a teen who is working to
repair the world?
Zak Kukoff – “We bring students together to build
understanding and friendships.”
Zak founded Autism Ambassadors after
seeing his autistic cousin ostracized and alienated in the classroom. Moved by
her experience, he created this peer-led program to foster friendships between
students with and without autism, and to teach autistic students social,
emotional and academic skills.
Zak’s program is in more than 25 schools
across the country, and he will be releasing his first book, The Autism
Ambassadors’ Handbook, later this fall.
Joe Langerman – “Be a part of the
solution to end hatred and embrace tolerance in our lives.”
Joe stood up
to hate by starting Voices Against Cruelty, Hatred and Intolerance. He surveyed
his peers to prove the prevalence of bullying, successfully petitioned his
school board to change policies, and engaged his peers through new school
curricula and community showings of solidarity. Joe has helped combat and
minimize bullying at his school, and is paying it forward by establishing
chapters at surrounding high schools.
Daniel Rosenthal – “Magic takes you
on adventures – without you ever having to leave your seat, hospital bed or
As an eight-year-old, Daniel began performing magic tricks
for children and adults in the hospital. Inspired by the healing power of
laughter, he coordinates volunteer magicians and magic shows in hospitals,
schools and rehabilitation and assisted living centers across the country. With
volunteers all over the nation and a prestigious Board of Advisors, Daniel – who
aspires to be a medical doctor – is strategically expanding Magic is Medicine
and plans to establish an international branch in Israel.
– “Sparking students’ interest in math and science enriches their lives and
betters our world.”
Adam’s love for math and science encouraged him to
share his passion with underprivileged fifth-graders in Los Angeles by
developing fun, handson and creative activities – setting them up to succeed in
two vital subjects. Archimedes Learning operates in three Los Angeles schools
with four volunteer teachers. Adam plans to expand within California and
ultimately across the United States.
Celine Yousefzadeh – “Through
fashion, we can engage and empower students to take immediate action to help
Celine felt a responsibility to help students in Sderot, Israel,
after Gaza Strip rocket attacks devastated their high school.
She began a
student-run fashion show charity event, which turns hundreds of students each
year into planners, models and philanthropists raising money for Israeli
charities. The annual show is the most successful fundraiser in the high
school’s history and Celine is working to implement Fashion with Compassion in
Jewish schools across the nation.
The writer is President of the Helen
Diller Family Foundation.