NEW YORK, Dec. 10 (JTA) — Philanthropy now begins at the age of B’nai and B’not Mitzvah in a Massachusetts community. To encourage tzedakah, a recently launched fund-raising program is offering teen-agers a way to make donations through small endowment funds. The program gives young people, “the thrill of being a philanthropist,” said Rob Katz, executive director of the Harold Grinspoon Supporting Foundation, one of the co-sponsors of the endowment program. The B’nai Tzedek program, based in Springfield, Mass., enables each participating teen-ager to set up an endowment fund of $500. Teens are asked to designate $125 of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts for an endowment fund. The Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts, which co-sponors the program, matches that amount, and the Grinspoon foundation contributes $250. B’nai Tzedek participants are required to donate five percent of their endowment funds annually to a local Jewish charity of their choice. They and their parents are encouraged to contribute additional amounts to the principal over time to maintain the fund balance. About a dozen teens — approximately 25 percent of the B’nai Mitzvah in western Massachusetts — have joined the program since it was launched earlier this year. B’nai Tzedek is “a way of getting young people excited about Jewish philanthropy and giving through endowments,” said Katz. The program is intended to develop a life-long habit of giving tzedakah. In the long term, this will help build up endowment foundations, said Katz. The idea for B’nai Tzedek came from the Jewish Fund for Justice, said Katz. Youth Endowment Funds were created by the New York-based fund nearly 12 years ago to enable the family and friends of B’nai or B’not Mitzvah to contribute at least $1,000 to establish a fund in the name of the young person. The young participants choose which organizations fighting poverty that are supported by the Jewish Fund for Justice to give money from their endowments. When they turn 21, the balance is transferred to the fund or converted into a Family Endowment Fund. Some 80 young people are currently participating in the program. Another organization, Mazon, which supports groups combating hunger, encourages teens to contribute 3 percent of the cost of their Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration to Mazon. Sometimes they choose to donate 10 percent of the money they receive as gifts or ask friends and family to donate to Mazon instead of receiving gifts. “The significance of meaning of this rite of passage is sometimes lost,” said Beth Edelson, associate director of the Jewish Fund for Justice. Contributions to charitable organizations and community service projects have become a popular way of infusing meaning into the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, she added.
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