Many B’nai Mitzvah programs have a Mitzvah or community service project as part of the learning. After all, giving back, giving Tzedakah is an integral part of Jewish practice. For many young teens, these projects are a one-time effort. They feel good about what they have contributed but may feel uninspired to continue their good work. Through the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, there is a way that a B’nai Mitzvah teen can give back forever.
Through the B’nai Mitzvah Club, a teen can open an endowment fund and allocate the interest to the charity of their choosing every year. A fund must have a minimum of $500 to be opened, but teens can donate as little as $250 thanks to a generous match from the Saul and Edna Goldfarb B'nai Mitzvah Club. They can also add to their fund on a regular basis and have more to allocate. It starts a teen on the right path to annual community giving and can be an important way to teach philanthropic values.
The E-Bulletin had the chance to talk with one family who has made this annual allocation a family affair. Jon and Jamiee Mitzmacher have supported their daughters Eliana (18) and Maytal (15) to create B’nai Mitzvah funds, to make an annual gift to the fund, and to make a plan for how the allocation will be used each year.
EB: Why was it important to you to encourage your daughters to be part of the B’nai Mitzvah Club?
JM: Before we arrived in Ottawa, our previous community had a similar program. We had already started the process with Eliana, and it seemed natural to continue in Ottawa. For us as a family, it was a no-brainer. We were going to do it. Ensuring that the next generation is as philanthropic as the generations before is critical. Statistics support that younger people are not giving the way their parents and grandparents gave, so anything that we can do to inspire the next generation, at a young age, to know how philanthropy works, and to start getting used to giving will be a huge return on investment for the community.
EB: What are your philanthropic values and how do you convey them to your daughters?
JM: We we've always been deeply engaged and involved in any synagogue to which was belonged, and we regularly engage with the larger Jewish community as well. So obviously our synagogue is going to be an object of our philanthropy. In addition, as a Jewish day school professional, giving to the local day school will always happen. Then we look around and think about what our priorities are in a given year. Most years, Israel is a focus. We may have secular causes that we care about both nationally and in the community where we live. We make sure to include our children in those conversations, so they get a sense of what we value and how we go about our allocation process.
EB: How do you work with your daughters to make decisions and set priorities for their funds?
JM: We have no requirements for their giving priorities. However, since we, as a family, are so engaged in the Jewish community, there is an understanding that some of the money will go to Jewish organizations or causes. Beyond that, it changes from year to year based on what they see in the world. One year Eliana gave money to counter gun violence (we had recently moved from the US). Maytal is passionate about dance and has given to causes that speak to her passions. Some years they have given to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank in addition to their other projects.
EB: What do you hope they take away from this experience?
JM: We hope that they see the concentric circles of community in which they live and move through. We hope they recognize the blessings of living in the Jewish community, Ottawa community, Canadian community, and global community. We hope they see how those communities interact with each other and fit together and that they can choose how to move between the Jewish and secular community. Having the B’nai Mitzvah fund creates an opportunity for parents to engage in what really becomes clarifying conversations around identity because in some ways that’s the lens through which they are really seeing. The fund provides opportunities to have wider conversations about, should you be having commitments to Israel and why, should you be having commitments to our local Jewish community and why, and should you have commitments to our local secular community? Having those talks now makes it easier for them to sort out priorities as they get older.
EB: How has the Foundation supported you through the establishment of the Funds and on an ongoing basis?
JM: The creation of the accounts was smooth and easy, and it was nice for the girls to have an opportunity to meet with Micah [Garten]. Especially at the age of 13 or 14, it’s cool to go to his office and sit down with him and talk through the details. It makes the kids feel very important. I love that the foundation highlights new B’nai Mitzvah Club fund holders at the AGM. It helps the kids see how accessible community is and it shows the community the good work being done by our youngest givers.
In her own words, Eliana Mitzmacher said, “I feel that philanthropy is an important aspect of the Bat Mitzvah process because it allows the Bat Mitzvah to spend time giving back to her community, and helping those less fortunate than her, ultimately linking Tikkun Olam to the transition into Jewish adulthood."
On the beneficiary side, The Ottawa Kosher Food Bank is very popular with the B’nai Mitzvah Fund holders. As Linda Prizant, Director of the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank said, “The Ottawa Kosher Food Bank (OKFB) serves approximately 135 families every month in the Ottawa area. When we receive allocations from B’nai Mitzvah Club fund holders, it makes a big difference. Unfortunately, many of the clients of the OKFB live below the poverty line and given the high cost of food right now, these allocations are critical to keeping the Food Bank running at its maximum capacity.
For example, with an allocation of $40 to the OKFB, we can buy 20 boxes of crackers from Loblaws and turn that money around and “stretch” each dollar with PC Optimum points collected. This means that a $40 allocation is turned into $50 or $60 worth of food.”
The B’nai Mitzvah Club is the Foundation’s way of making charitable giving easy and integral to the health and well-being of the Ottawa Jewish Community and beyond. Learn more here and then contact Micah Garten at firstname.lastname@example.org.