The untapped power of youth

"To have other kids their age come and spend time with them means a lot to these children."

The result of three high school girls’ sheer chutzpah: The T-shirts with the ‘Have we done something for someone else?’ slogan have raised NIS 160,000, distributed to nonprofits (photo credit: Courtesy)
The result of three high school girls’ sheer chutzpah: The T-shirts with the ‘Have we done something for someone else?’ slogan have raised NIS 160,000, distributed to nonprofits
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Experience has shown that teenagers tend to be vastly underestimated by adults. When play therapist Rochelle Wreschner at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem was first approached by Eliora Weiss, a local seventh-grader, with an idea for a new social initiative that seeks to collect and refurbish secondhand toys for better use in the children’s ward, she naturally inquired who the adult involved in the undertaking was.
Wreschner’s persistent attempts to uncover which parent or teacher was behind this impressive enterprise were met with the same insistent answer: It was none but Eliora herself, and her friend Yedidya Rabinowitz, who had come up with the idea and managed to recruit their classmates to make it a reality. To her utter befuddlement, no adultsized footprints were anywhere to be found.
Soon a troupe of 13-year-olds was meeting every weekend to fix up the trove of old donated toys they had managed to procure that week, often by going door-to-door and at times by spreading word through the community to bring out all their worn-out playthings to a local drop-off point. With a contagious enthusiasm normally reserved at such an age for far less noble endeavors, these kids have managed to collect and fix over 400 toys and games in the few months since they began. All of them have reached the hands of young children at the Hadassah medical center and in two nearby orphanages.
“Seeing their smiles when we visit them with the toys makes it all worthwhile,” says an emotional Yedidya. “We realized that they can get very lonely in there, and to have other kids their age come and spend time with them means a lot to these children.”
Already these indefatigable middle- schoolers have set their eyes on new creative ways to expand their operation. They have used the social media to widen the circle of teenagers around Jerusalem who have answered the call of the new “Yeled L’Yeled” project – literally “Kid to Kid” – by collecting old toys or joining the weekly fix-up meetings. Eliora and Yedidya have also sought to send whole shipments of broken toys to elementary schools around Jerusalem, to be fixed by younger kids as part of their regular arts-and-crafts classes.
“This project not only provides toys where they are most needed, it also helps bring together teens from different parts of Jerusalem,” Eliora explains. “Having a common objective to dedicate our time to creates a much more powerful connection than anything else.”
The full extent of this phenomenon, whereby school-aged children envision and spearhead community projects around the capital entirely on their own, may yet astonish the reader. As the whole colorful tapestry of youth-led initiatives unravels, one discovers over a dozen such ventures operating independently in various Jerusalem neighborhoods. Alex Asarnitzky of the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council testifies that more than 350 teenage volunteers make use of his organization’s guidance and resources to lead their projects.
“We speak to these teens at eye level, treating them as true leaders,” Asarnitzky elaborates. “Something is happening here in Jerusalem, which may well become a model for the rest of the country. There is a deep reservoir of social energy among school-age young adults that we try to cultivate by allowing them to take up responsibility and carry out projects by themselves.”
It appears these leaders in the making are often more in tune with the actual pressing needs of real working-class Israelis than the legislators who were purportedly sent to work on their behalf. Low-income families who cannot afford a computer for their children’s education, to name one example, may well have kept on waiting for relief to arrive from the Knesset. Thirteen- year-old Natan Goldfarb, on the other hand, found a rather creative solution to their plight.
Having grown up dismantling broken- down hardware as his favorite pastime, he decided to put his savvy to good use by sprucing up old computers and delivering them to less fortunate kids who struggle to attain them. What began less than a year ago as a humble activity in his own garage is now a fullfledged city-wide operation, as Natan secures scores of old personal desktop computers from nearby schools, and recently even from the Jerusalem offices of Intel. With the help of five of his classmates he has thus far fixed up and handed out a whopping 500 computers, even catching the attention of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, which now refers local welfare families directly to this remarkable seventh-grader to get hold of a computer.
In view of the profound social impact just a handful of teens can bring about, the potential good that could come to the city if only hundreds more would follow is exciting to contemplate. It was this realization that brought Eliora, Yedidya and Natan together to organize a joint fund-raising event at the end of the school year last month, showcasing all teen-led volunteer projects active around Jerusalem. “We wanted to invite all middle- schoolers and high-schoolers to spend their summer vacation doing something for the community,” Natan expounds. “Instead of staying at home playing video games, they might discover how meaningful and fun volunteering can be.”
The event at Liberty Bell Park featured the teen and adolescent representatives of 14 volunteer projects from all over the city, each a living testament to the limitless creativity and enthusiasm harbored by Jerusalem youth.
One such project, aptly named Tzedaka by its 10th-grade founders, seeks to provide underprivileged families with cheaper basic food products. This they have achieved by purchasing fruits and vegetables at retail prices directly from farmers and selling family-sized packages with a small margin of profit, which is then donated to various nonprofits. Another association of teens present at the event has been collecting second- hand books to be sold at nominal prices to needy families.
Yet another creative idea which spread like a forest fire through Jerusalem in recent months was envisioned and realized by the sheer will and remarkable chutzpah of three high-school girls. Over the past two years they have been selling a simple-cut, short-sleeve T-shirt bearing the catchy phrase: “Have we done something for someone else?” for a humble NIS 10 profit. With an average of 600 monthly sales, the observant reader will surely notice this new fashion taking hold around town; meanwhile, a jaw-dropping NIS 160,000 raised in this fashion by three cheeky teenagers have surely been noticed by the thankful nonprofits to which they chose to donate their profits. Pelech High School in the Baka neighborhood has even adopted the cool new shirt as its official school uniform.
While each of these inspiring activities is certainly exceptional in its own right, their true significance as a whole can only be recognized upon stepping back to view the big picture. The presence of so many creative young women and men with the drive to roll up their sleeves and better the world around them, carries the seeds of a new generation with the potential to render Israeli society a true “light upon the nations.”
“These remarkable kids prove to us all that we can begin giving back to society at a very early age,” one parent present at the fund-raising event remarked. “They reveal the beautiful face of Israel.”