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) —After taking a class on Jewish ethics at his synagogue, 17-year-old Noah Levinson was left wondering about the future of those less fortunate than himself.
“We are told that today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow,” said Levinson, adding, “How can teenagers experiencing homelessness, poverty, foster care or abuse mature into compassionate, responsible adult leaders?”
Levinson, who started his own DJ and entertainment business while in seventh grade, decided to create a nightclub experience for teens that would not only be fun and have a great sound, but would also raise awareness and funds for nonprofit organizations that help troubled youth.
“I realized I could use my passion for music to make the world a better place,” said Levinson, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego.
At a local community center, on the evening after Halloween, he held his second annual Hallow Project event. With over 400 teens in attendance from 14 San Diego-area high schools, Levinson charged $15 a ticket ($20 at the door) and donated 100 percent of his profits — $1,600 — to Just in Time for Foster Youth, an organization that helps individuals in foster care transition to self-sufficiency and independence.
Before the event, Levinson met with representatives from Just in Time, who were able to provide staff to serve as security and helped him find sponsors to offset the costs for food, decorations, sound and lighting equipment, and space rental.
In between the music sets by the four DJs at the event, Levinson shared information and statistics about foster youth provided by Just in Time. He also thanked the teens for supporting the cause and stressed that “[Hallow] is by teens, for teens benefiting other teens.”
For his work with the Hallow Project, Levinson was recently awarded the Peter Chortek Leadership Award from the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego. In addition to a $3,600 prize, the foundation gave him an additional $1,800 to donate to a charity of his choice, which Levinson plans to put toward the third annual Hallow event.
But soon he will hand over responsibility for planning next fall’s event to a sophomore or junior, as Levinson will be heading to New York University to study music business and entrepreneurship.
“I was always passionate about music but also tikkun olam,” he said. “It felt great to be able to connect my passion for music with my wish to repair the world.”
Levinson recently spoke to JTA about the famous musician who inspires him, the Hebrew songs he finds most meaningful and the advice he’d give to his Hallow Project successors.
JTA: What do you think are the important qualities of a hero?
Levinson: A hero is someone who goes and does something that puts other people before themselves. A hero must be willing to take risks for the benefit of others.
If you could have lunch or coffee with anyone and tell him or her about the Hallow Project, who would it be?
Neil Young is super inspiring because he has the same ideas that I do for using music to benefit others and make the world a better place. He’s a huge source of inspiration for me, and he might give me some pointers or ideas [on planning nonprofit music events and festivals].
What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
In the summer, I surf. In the winter, I snowboard. I like to make music and hang out with friends and go to USY events.
Do you play any musical instruments?
Music is a big part of my life. I’ve taken guitar lessons since the fourth grade, and I dabble on the piano.
What Jewish music is particularly meaningful to you?
“The Hope” by Rick Recht and the Hebrew song “Acheinu.” The first time I heard [“Acheinu”], I was in Poland on USY Pilgrimage. It really touched my heart, and I thought it was the most beautiful song that I’d ever heard.
What advice would you give to the teens that will be taking over the planning of the Hallow Project?
You can be really scared, but take that leap of faith and a deep breath, and know that it’s going to be OK.
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