Jenna Himelstein - What Does it Mean to Be a Jewish Teen Philanthropist?

Name: Jenna Himelstein

School & Grade: 11th Grader at Carmel High School

Passionate About the Cause of: Protecting the Environment and Reducing Poverty

Participants in the YoPhI Teen Board have spent the last eight months working in collaboration with the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and its Lake Institute on Faith & Giving towards a Certificate in Youth Philanthropic Leadership. Over the next few weeks, you’ll be able to read responses that YoPhI Teen Board members wrote in response to the question -  What Does it Mean to Be a Jewish Teen Philanthropist?

At first glance, this question seems pretty simple. “What does it mean to be a Jewish Teen Philanthropist?” I mean why does anyone want to be a philanthropist. I emphasize the word “be” because, how can someone even call themselves that? There is no single definition. Lexico Dictionary defines a philanthropist as “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” However, I know that one does not have to make large donations, or any donations at all, in order to practice philanthropy. Maybe that is one way being a teen makes me different. I have to be creative in finding ways I want to help the world around me. Even if I wanted to make generous donations to admirable organizations, my two shifts per week job at Jersey Mike’s Subs is not going to bring me the desired income. I can volunteer and provide my skills and support to those in need, but at what point does that make me a philanthropist? Is it by who I help or how much time I give that defines me? If, after my experience with YoPhI Teen Board, I never help our world again, will I still be labeled a philanthropist? While every philanthropist has different, specific motives, I would like to believe that the overarching goal of every do-gooder is to make the world a better place. The label should not matter, it is what you do that matters.

In my experience, Judaism informs my method of philanthropy. My mission is not limited to the Jewish community, yet the Jewish community has shown me how to give. Since Kindergarten Sunday School, the phrase gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, has been engraved in my head. I would give tzedakah every Sunday and donate canned food at Temple food drives. I had never thought about a community that did not give. However, now that I am older, a young adult, my actions are up to me. I have the choice to help those around me and those across the world, just like it was my decision to join the YoPhI Teen Board. As a teen, I have the ability to influence my peers to be givers as well. What we do now, is a preview of the people we will be later.

I have already touched on the idea that generosity can come in many shapes and sizes. As a teenager, it is easy for me to find volunteering opportunities, and now that I can drive, there are no limits as to how much I can do. However, I joined the YoPhI Teen Board because I want to make more than one type of impact. Joining this group of intelligent, dedicated teens has been so much more than I had envisioned. Through our sessions, I have learned what draws me to philanthropy and how I define my personal mission: It is my mission to help repair the world by working to achieve equity and mend our planet. I strive to live my life ambitiously and meaningfully as I work to see all situations and people with an open heart and open mind. I believe it is my duty to help my local community and the environment in order to create the best possible future for the generations to come.

To be a Jewish Teen Philanthropist means many things. It means that I work with and learn from my Jewish community so I can be the best possible human. It means that I have a future ahead of me where I can change, expand, and enhance my generosity. It means that whether I call myself a philanthropist or not, I know I am making a difference, and will continue to make an impact.

The YoPhI Teen Board is an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis and is part of the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) Foundation Board Incubator, an initiative funded by Laura Lauder and the Maimonides Fund. For more information please contact David Heilbron, Director of Youth Philanthropy & Connection at


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