The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — When Gabe Baskin was preparing for his bar mitzvah, he wanted to find a community service project that would tie into his Torah portion of Re’eh, meaning, “to see.”
“So I thought there is no better way than helping others see,” said Baskin, now 17.
He reached out to Guide Dogs for the Blind, a Colorado organization that trains dogs to assist the blind and visually impaired.
Baskin and his family attended multiple meetings and learned the skills necessary to prepare the Labrador puppies for the rigors of guide dog school.
Living with the family for about a year and a half, the puppies learned commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come” and “stand,” and were housebroken and trained not to chew on anything, Baskin said. In addition, he exposed them to numerous situations and public places that they might encounter as guide dogs.
“The dogs are always learning and always training,” said Baskin, who is currently training his third puppy, Collier.
For his part, he said, “I learned to be really appreciative of what I have. We hear about the challenges [of the blind and visually impaired] and I am grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with.”
A senior at Denver Jewish Day School, he is applying to colleges across the country, playing soccer, basketball and baseball, and is active in his local BBYO chapter. This year he is also serving as a StandWithUs MZ teen intern, organizing Israel advocacy and educational events for his peers.
It is this connection to Israel, Baskin added, that motivated him to support his cause there as well by donating money to the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.
“Adulthood is not all about getting, it’s a lot about giving,” Baskin said. “To be living, you need to be giving.”
He recently spoke to JTA about his important heroes, his emotional Jewish experience and the latest book he read for pleasure.
JTA: Who’s your hero and why?
Baskin: My parents are heroes. They’ve taught me important values and upheld them themselves. They are tikkun olam-oriented, and giving is an important part of our lives.
What are some important qualities in a hero?
I think a hero needs to be genuine and passionate about his or her cause. Everyday heroes are very important. They put in the work despite not getting the recognition.
What do you think you want to be when you grow up?
Maybe a sports journalist, maybe an orthodontist. I haven’t decided, but something in the humanities.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
I really like Sukkot. It’s nice to have dinner in the sukkah with my family and friends. We have a lot of traditions that are nice to do every year.
Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience?
This past summer, [before going to Israel] going to the gates of Auschwitz. It’s the saddest part of our history and was a moving experience.
What’s the latest book you read for pleasure?
“A Thousand Splendid Suns,” by Khaled Hosseini. It was a really interesting perspective on women in the Middle East and shed light on something I might not have learned about.
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