What would you do with $10,000? How would you make a difference and strengthen the Memphis Jewish community? These were the questions posed to the conscientious members of B’nai Tzedek, the teen philanthropy program at the Jewish Foundation of Memphis. Founded in 2002 and named Outstanding Teen Foundation in 2005 by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Memphis Chapter, B’nai Tzedek teaches Jewish teens to become philanthropists.

Memphis Jewish Federation leaders receives a B’nai Tzedek grant.

Teens join B’nai Tzedek by donating $250 of their bar or bat mitzvah money to the Jewish Foundation of Memphis. This money is used to establish a donor-advised fund in their name. A generous donor matches each teen’s $250 donation, so there is automatically $500 in each fund, or more if the teen puts in more than $250, of course. This money can be used towards any non-profit in the United States, and the teens choose where they would like to donate.

The $10,000 is the second part of the B’nai Tzedek program, in which a donor grants $10,000 for the collective group of teens to allocate. Memphis Jewish non-profits are invited to submit grant proposals for this money. In 2019, 15 agencies submitted over $43,000 in requests. The B’nai Tzedek group met several times to discuss how their funding could have the most impact on the local Jewish community. The teens learned more about diverse Jewish organizations in Memphis by visiting them all on a Sunday afternoon bus tour in February. After meeting with the organizations, they decided how to distribute their grant money – to programs at Baron Hirsch Congregation, Wendy and Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service at the MJCC, Memphis Jewish Community Center, Memphis Jewish Federation, Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab, NCSY and Plough Towers. The granting cycle for 2020 will open in January.

B’nai Tzedek volunteers Talya Mendelson, Brooke Sanderson and Morgan Schrier support the Girls on the Run 5k race on November 10, at the MJCC.

A new component to the B’nai Tzedek includes hands-on volunteering. On November 10, 2019, several B’nai Tzedek members came to the Memphis JCC to support young girls running the Girls on the Run 5k race. The teens held signs along the racecourse to encourage the girls to keep going. One teen even ran part of the race to motivate a young girl to keep jogging.

More volunteer opportunities are coming in 2020. In particular, planning has begun to coordination with Rashki Osina, program manager and therapist, at Wendy and Avron B. Fogelman Jewish Family Service at the MJCC. Together, they hope to ensure the Kosher Food Pantry is stocked and other local Jewish needs are met.

“I love being a part of B’nai Tzedek,” said Brooke Sanderson, a 7th grader at the Margolin Hebrew Academy. “Not only am I learning about how to give back with money, but it is also allowing me to volunteer. I had a great time helping out at the Girls on the Run race and can’t wait to do more to help others in the community.”

Any teen who has become bar or bat mitzvah can join B’nai Tzedek at any time. Fill out the form online https://jcpmemphis.org/teen-philanthropy or contact the Jewish Foundation of Memphis at 901.374.0400 for more information and to sign up.