Teens make charity trendy

Jonathan Izraeli, a young man from Ra'anana, decided to forgo the usual post-bar mitzva debate about whether to use his gift money to go on a trip or buy a new computer. Instead, Izraeli donated his money to the Israel Cancer Association. When he was born, Jonathan's grandfather was a cancer patient at Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer. In order to include the ailing man in his grandson's inauguration into the Jewish people, the family decided to hold the baby's brit milah (circumcision) in the hospital. So it was only natural that the bar mitzva boy thought of making such a gift. Miri Ziv, director of the Israel Cancer Association, said "no doubt this is a special donation. Every donation is helpful in the fight against cancer." Izraeli's gift reflects a growing trend among Jewish youth, who are choosing to use the opportunity of reaching Judaism's age of adulthood to give time and money to various charities. Today, they are active in a variety of causes, such as volunteering in the North to help repair damage from bombs that fell during last summer's Lebanon war. The phenomenon is as common in the United States as it is in Israel. Joshua Cohen, of the Torah Academy of Bergen County in New Jersey, wanted to make a difference with his money too. Cohen and his friends, Ari Gartenberg, Rubin Dolny, and Ben Freedman, signed up for the Yeshiva University Sy Syms Investment Competition, an annual cross-country investment competition for students. The team that makes the most profit from the virtual money they invest wins a cash prize of $750. Cohen's team decided before the competition that if they won, they would donate the winnings to charity. After winning the prize money, the team commented: "Although it is always nice to receive real money after investing fake money, there are others out there who need it more." The high school students donated their prize money to a displaced family of 15 from Gush Katif. Cohen, accompanied by TABC's principal, Rabbi Yosef Adler, and Mr. Arthur Poleyeff, principal of academic studies, came to Israel to hand deliver the money to the Gush Katif family, along with additional funds raised directly by the TABC student body. Dr. Stephen Donshik, director of the Israel office of the UJA Federation of New York, has seen a sharp rise in youth donating time and money to Jewish causes. He explained that the kids who do so feel a connection to Israel - "Israel is real in their lives." There are many reasons for this growing trend, explained Donshik, for example: the sense of giving or doing something, Tikkun Olam (healing the world), and the youths' connection to the community. "I think the experience of transitioning from child to Jewish adult gives them a sense of wanting to do something good," said Donshik "This education makes the youth see beyond themselves." The UJA Federation of New York set up a program called "Give a Mitzva/Do a Mitzva" as a response to the trend. It all starts with the child, explained Donshik. "If the child wasn't willing, the parents wouldn't be."