Vancouver Talmud Torah head of school Cathy Lowenstein Lowenstein addresses those gathered for the closing of this year’s Mitzvah of Valuing Philanthropy program. (photo by Jennifer Shecter-Balin)
On June 15, Grade 7 students at Vancouver Talmud Torah celebrated the close of the year’s Mitzvah of Valuing Philanthropy (MVP) program. Started by the late Sari Zack Weintraub Greenberg nine years ago, MVP integrates a curriculum of tikkun olam (repairing the world), rooted in traditional Jewish teachings, into the students’ educational experience.
Head of school Cathy Lowenstein said Greenberg’s work “revolutionized the school’s tikkun olam curriculum.” Greenberg encouraged the students to “lovingly expand their universe of obligation,” said Lowenstein. The program is something that the kids look forward to in their Grade 7 year, she continued, noting that “tikkun olam is a cornerstone of the school.”
Since its inception, the MVP program has raised a total of $220,000. This year’s 39 Grade 7 students raised an impressive $27,000. On top of this fundraising record, this year’s Tzedakah Project has also contributed $10,000 as a grant to “motivate and inspire” the kids to develop their passion for tzedakah (charity/justice) and chesed (loving kindness).
The MVP group expressed thanks to Cambridge Uniforms for their ongoing support of the program. This year also saw the involvement of Chimp representatives Judy Boxer and Ariel Lewinski, who offered support via the company to this generation of philanthropists. Boxer and Lewinski gave gift cards totaling $10,000 out to the members of the audience on June 15. Each card could be used to donate $100 to a charity of the recipient’s choice.
The MVP program is support by the Irma Zack MVP Endowment Fund, established by Dr. David Zack – Greenberg’s father – in memory of his late wife, and the original seed funding was donated by Sylvia and the late Lorne Cristall. It is through these funds that the school has been able to run MVP and other such initiatives.
The MVP students followed a careful process of selection of charities to support. They picked ethical commandments to work with, such as healing the sick, helping others in difficulty, or feeding the hungry. They researched the agencies that satisfied these criteria and found contacts with whom to work. Having interviewed these contacts, the kids then had 20 minutes to convince their class to contribute to their agencies, turning classrooms into boardrooms for allocation meetings.
Funds were donated to 24 different organizations this year, including household names like UNICEF and Magen David Adom, and local beneficiaries like the Vancouver Aquarium and Big Sisters. Students also selected Down Syndrome Research and CEASE, an agency that supports women victims of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
Several students offered their perspectives on the MVP initiative to the Jewish Independent.
Asher Teperson described how “we assumed the roles of principal researchers, primary investigators, bankers and lawyers to assess the needs in our community and respond to them in concrete ways.” For the MVP students, this was a rite of passage. “We had a taste of what it means to become an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community,” said Asher.
Estie Kallner echoed these sentiments: “How often are 12- and 13-year-olds asked to make phone calls to strangers, conduct interviews in corporate offices, request clarification on financial matters and pester agency executives on their overhead costs?”
Julia Huber closed the program remarks with a reflection on how much they had grown through the experience. She described a group of “restless, nervous and confused” kids at the start of the program. However, she said, “with support and encouragement, not only did we embrace the challenge, but we exceeded even our own ambitious goals.”
As another student, Isabella Leipsic, observed, the program left them with a profound sense of their own “strength” in “moral decision-making.” She added, with thanks to the program, “our lives will never be the same.”
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.