Getting Teens To Volunteer


For the past three years, Peter Dreyer, a 12th grader at Manhattan’s Trinity School, has visited regularly with homebound seniors. On Sunday, the 18-year-old veteran volunteer will share his experiences with about 125 local high school students taking part in J-Serve, a nationwide service initiative for Jewish teens.“Judaism really embraces community and demands that Jewish people support each other,” said Dreyer, who will lead a J-Serve orientation Sunday. This weekend about 4,000 Jewish teens from 30 North American cities will participate in a variety of daylong service projects as part of J-Serve’s one day of Jewish volunteering. The New York-area teens will meet with and deliver food to senior citizens Sunday.

“We want to get across that volunteering is a Jewish act and caring for the elderly is a Jewish value,” said Judith Turner, who as director of family and youth services for DOROT is heading up J-Serve’s New York-based efforts.To satisfy J-Serve’s required Jewish learning component, DOROT, an organization working to enhance the lives of senior citizens, will sponsor post-visit educational workshops.

Session topics include spirituality and volunteerism, using the telephone to reach out to immobile seniors and media portrayal of the elderly. J-Serve, which coincides with Youth Service America’s national day of service, is jointly sponsored by The Jewish Coalition for Service, the North American Alliance for Jewish Youth and PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Values. Organizers hope the day of Jewish service will turn into an annual event.

The initiative was conceived at PANIM’s teen leadership conference in October, as a way to engage civic-minded unaffiliated or uninvolved Jewish teens. Ten J-Serve organizations, including DOROT, were chosen to receive a $2,500 mini-grant to offset overhead costs.

“This chesed project focuses the community on the tremendous capacity teens have to make a difference,” said Simha Rosenberg, executive director of the Jewish Coalition for Service and a national J-Serve coordinator. “We see this as a gateway for teens to get involved in community service on an ongoing basis.”

Move over SpongeBob, and make room for Blue Box Bob, a cartoon-like figure in the shape of a tzedakah box. Blue Box Bob, whose rectangular costume features a map of Israel, is making free trips to Jewish preschools and elementary school classrooms across the country to give grade-specific presentations to youngsters about Israel and the Jewish National Fund. The century-old organization historically raised money to purchase parcels of land in Israel, and now plants trees and carries out agricultural and water conservation projects. “We’re trying to reach younger students,” said Shira Zamir, the JNF’s national education coordinator. “We know their parents and grandparents are familiar with JNF tins. This is a way to teach both about JNF and about how the Jewish people worked together to build the state of Israel.” She said Blue Box Bob, while shaped much like the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, was actually named after Bob Levine, the fund’s vice president for education. Schools interested in taking part in the Blue Box Bob program can call 212-879-9305 ext. 269 or e-mail

Buenos Aires, Argentina, home to more than 15,000 Jewish young adults, recently opened its second community-based Hillel. The new facility, known as the University Center, is centrally located downtown, near Buenos Aires University. The center, dedicated late last month, features a kosher cafeteria, a free cyber-café, and various meeting rooms and study spaces. It comes three years after the city welcomed its first Hillel in Belgrano, a Jewish neighborhood in northern Buenos Aires. The University Center is the fifth community Hillel opened in South America since 2001. In addition to Buenos Aires, there are centers in Montevideo, Uruguay, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Santiago, Chile.Hillel has “taken South American community by storm,” said Jay Rubin, executive vice president of Hillel’s international division. Start-up costs were about $40,000, jointly raised by Hillel Argentina and by the United Jewish Federation of Metro West New Jersey, Rubin said.

New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue has launched what it is calling, “Hebrew school for adults.” Tahalich, Hebrew for “process,” is a new and intensive weekly learning program for women. The Sunday morning series is geared toward newly observant Jews with little to moderate familiarity with Jewish texts, said Zemira Ozarowski, the synagogue’s program director. “There are a lot of [outreach] programs in the city, but they’re either for the very beginners, or for people who have grown up frum and have that background” in Jewish studies, Ozarowski said. “This fills out a lot of information about the [Torah portions] and the chronology of major events in Jewish history.” Torah study, Jewish law, and basic biblical Hebrew are among the courses offered weekly. More information about the program, including tuition rates, is available at