Teens Making A Difference: Saltzman Youth Panel

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The Jewish Federation of Cleveland's Saltzman Youth Panel program educates Jewish Cleveland students about the philanthropic process. The panelists, made up of high school juniors and seniors, work together to understand various community needs and then make a formal recommendation to the Federation’s Board of Trustees on how to distribute up to $45,000 in grant funding. Through this program, the 22 participants develop their leadership and group consensus building skills as they learn about the community decision-making and most importantly, tzedakah.

Hear about their experience by reading their blog posts below:

Sofia Baris is a senior at Shaker Heights High School. She loves the theater, is a strong advocate of mental health, LGBTQ+ rights, and Israel advocacy. Sofia is a Saltzman Youth Panel Peer Advisor, an active member of BBYO, Friendship Circle Volunteer, and on the Israeli Culture Club. In her free time, Sofia is on the Political Action Club, Shaker Group on Race Relations, and the Polar Opposite Project. Sofia’s philanthropic role model is her father who was raised by parents with beliefs from the Great Depression era. Due to this, her family understood the value of money and that people come from different backgrounds.

There are no words to sum up how meaningful the Saltzman Youth Panel is to me. Over the last two years, I have witnessed many moments of compromise and camaraderie, both as a panelist and as a Peer Youth Advisor. Even though all of the 2020-2021 meetings and a few of the meetings for the 2021-2022 panel have been virtual, we’ve still been able to connect and create direct change in our community. It’s been an honor to carry on the legacy of Maurice Saltzman, and every meeting the panelists and advisors are reminded just how large of a philanthropic footprint Mr. Saltzman had on the City of Cleveland and its Jewish community.

In the decision process for the grants, the panelists are starting to get into the nitty-gritty of the conversations, and it has been amazing to watch just how meaningful the conversations are to the panelists, and to the adults in the room, too. During Sessions five and six, we had Federation staff and lay leaders join us to observe our consensus building process and teach us about the Federation allocations process, and even to them, the panelists’ passion regarding this year's proposals were clear. They were mostly impressed with how widespread the panelists wanted their impact to be - not just in the short term.

Their dedication to the process of granting has reminded me why I love being a part of the Jewish community here and why I love being involved with the Saltzman Youth Panel. It has given me so many valuable lessons that I can take into my future, none more important than learning when to step up and learning when to listen. Everything the panel has given me has prepared me for so many different and tough conversations, and I’m not sure otherwise how I would have gained these skills if I wasn’t part of the panel.

Cassie O'Shea

Cassie O’Shea is the manager of development communications at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, as well as a foundation associate for the David and Inez Myers Foundation. She was honored to join a recent session of the 2021-22 Saltzman Youth Panel and inspired by the teens’ community focus, understanding of philanthropy and its potential impact, and depth of long-term thinking. She believes the panelists’ Brit offers timeless wisdom to all of us as we strive to be the best versions of ourselves: Bring an open mind, a positive attitude, and respect to every endeavor. Assume the best intentions of each other. Speak for ourselves and not for others. Consider the impact of our words and choose them carefully.

After hearing wonderful things about the incredible Saltzman Youth Panel (SYP), I had the opportunity, to attend the sixth session with this year’s talented cohort. I was so impressed by how engaged, articulate, intelligent, and thoughtful these young Jewish Clevelanders were. The entire session was imbued with a strong sense of respectfulness and collaboration that ensured nothing would get in the way of the ultimate goal: to do right by the community.

It is remarkable that this program was created in 1998. If you hear the words “panel” and “decades” in the same sentence, your mind might conjure thoughts of something routine and conventional. Hardly. The experience offered feels fresh, attuned to the moment, dynamic, and open to new iterations and exciting possibilities.

From the moment the session started, the discussion about the goal and purpose of SYP was filled with energy, excitement, and anticipation.

At its core, the program is “a panel of teens making decisions to allocate funds throughout the community,” as Rebecca Martel succinctly put it. Rafi Rubeck expanded by saying that they were “learning about the philanthropic process of different organizations across the Jewish community” and really seeing the “details behind supporting a Jewish community like Cleveland.” Danny Wilbur said it was very impactful that “we could make a difference in our community, and empowering that we could help people.” Adam Hollander and Rachel Neumann discussed how the debates shaped the decision-making process to eventually build consensus. Ethan Dobres said he learned just how many organizations and people there are working to solve problems and address issues in the community.

Next, in an exercise to focus the group and check our privilege to be in this amazing position where we can help others, we were shown an image of a baby chewing on an iPad sitting next to an impoverished child eating food off the ground. The panelists responded by explaining why they were upset and disturbed by the image, discussing how it represented troubling inequality and the big gap between those who have plenty and those who have very little. Dylan Ettkin said that it’s “important to acknowledge the fact that the kid with the iPad doesn’t know how privileged he is, but the kid eating food from the ground is of the age where he can realize that he might not be as fortunate as others.”

In such divisive times, it was very encouraging to see these young leaders work hard to make space for other points of view, listen and try to understand where their counterparts were coming from, allow their opinions to be challenged, and be flexible enough to change their minds on things that deeply matter to them. The panelists had to tackle difficult questions that all grant makers struggle with: How do we allocate limited funds in the most effective way to help people truly make an impact? How do we reconcile different types of needs across the local, national, and international Jewish community? How do we put our own biases and egos aside to understand different priorities and approaches from the perspective of the grantees themselves?

Overall, everyone contributed, and the panelists were very receptive of their peer leaders who skillfully provided guidance and structure to the conversation but didn’t steer the decision-making process in any one direction. The fact that this impactful endeavor was entirely self-directed by high school students to a positive and productive conclusion is truly a marvel.

The panelists’ acumen and heartfelt desire to make a difference is a sign not just of their fine personal qualities, but also a result of the focus their families and our community have placed on our individual and collective responsibility to make the world a better place. We should all be proud that Jewish Cleveland offers a remarkable breadth of unique and comprehensively designed opportunities to inspire young leaders.

The future of Jewish Cleveland is in great hands.

Lia Polster

Lia Polster is a junior at Shaker Heights High School and a member of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation. Lia is an active volunteer at the Friendship Circle, and a participant of icnext and the Shaker Heights High School Israeli Culture Club. In her free time, she loves ballet and dances at Cleveland City Dance. Lia has several philanthropic role models. Her father taught her that giving can make people happier and advised her to focus on a few things she cares deeply about. Lia’s mom volunteers at food banks, delivers groceries to people's homes, and holds leadership roles in Jewish Cleveland. Lia’s brother, Rylan, was part of the 2019-2020 panel and part of the inaugural Peer Advisor group in 2021-2022. Lia is proud to continue in her family’s strong community footsteps.

The Saltzman Youth Panel's fifth meeting was a hugely important one: it was the day we began the grant proposal process deciding where we would allocate the Saltzman Youth Panel money. To prepare for our difficult decision-making process, Michelle Hirsch, Federation’s allocations committee chair, and Margot Tomer, Federation’s managing director of allocations, met with us over Zoom to discuss how the allocation process works at the Federation. They informed us that allocating money can be a challenging process and gave us helpful advice on how to successfully navigate difficult conversions. I found it really inspiring to hear from people who have a lot of experience and regularly go through this process.

After their presentation, we all participated in a money message exercise, where we compared our interpretations and opinions on certain money-related expressions. I found this exercise super interesting because even though the majority of us agreed on certain topics, there were many instances where each person interpreted the message a different way. One statement in particular that struck me was whether or not we agreed that after high school, people become the sole person financially responsible for themselves. The majority of us – myself included – disagreed and believed that even after leaving the house no one is without support. However, we recognized that we are all extremely lucky and have people and resources already in our lives to provide support should we need it. The reason why this expression stuck with me is because I feel like it sums up the idea of philanthropy, specifically the philanthropy that we're doing as part of the Saltzman Youth Panel: to spend money so that more people can have access to similar supports whenever needed.

After the money message exercise, we moved onto the highly anticipated grant proposal process. We started off in small groups. I thought working in small groups worked really well. Everyone in my group was able to voice their opinions, and through discussion, we were able to reach consensus in good time. After figuring out how our small group would allocate the money, we rejoined the big group to make the final decisions. I found working in the large group much more difficult than the small group. I felt pretty good about my small group's decisions. However, other groups had made different decisions within their own groups and we had to figure out how to compromise between groups and opinions so we would reach a majority vote on our allocations. While it was difficult, working in the large group taught me the importance of communication and collaboration. If I want other people to hear what I have to say and vote for what I believe in, I have to use my voice to make my opinions heard. While using our voices to speak up is extremely important, it is equally as important to listen to what other people have to say in order to reach a consensus where possible and a compromise where not. This was an extremely valuable lesson which I will take with me into the upcoming session, where we will continue the allocation process.

At a recent session of the Saltzman Youth Panel, the cohort presented their research about the Federation's beneficiary agencies. After learning about these organizations, panelists shared their responses to the question, “Why do Jewish Federation’s beneficiary agencies matter to the community and to you?”

Read a few of their responses below:

“I was really impressed by how much they did to provide Israel programming for teens in Cleveland. The trips to Israel through icnext and the work with the Shin-Shinim seemed particularly important. I went to Pittsburgh for an antisemitism conference through @Akiva two years ago and was very impacted.”

“If we lost Bellefaire we would lose a safe space for children in need and a place where children on the spectrum can connect with others.”

“Hillel provides an outlet to best support college students in a transitional period of their lives. Without it they would lose this vital Jewish support system.”

“Without Fuchs Mizrachi, Cleveland would lose a very strong and prominent modern orthodox school in the community.”

“The community would lose a safe Jewish learning space. I went to preschool there and it was a great place to learn and I still talk with the friends I made there. I can remember the classrooms and recess.”

“Hebrew Academy of Cleveland has a crucial role in our community by providing Jewish education to a huge number of students. Jewish education would be lost without it.”

“The Hebrew Shelter Home is a vital community organization that provides many services to the community. Without it, Cleveland Jewish women would lose a safe space for emergency support.”

“Little things like a matzo ball soup hotline can have a huge effect on Jewish college student looking for a safe space and good community.”

“I learned a lot about the function of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland through the presentation. It really showed me the importance of an organization like the JEC to provide teacher education, funding for youth agencies like camps and youth groups, programs for children, funding for Jewish schools, and the jHub program for inter-faith families. I went to Mandel JDS through 8th grade, so the JEC definitely had an impact in my life.”

“The work that JFSA does really inspires me. I left awed by their work to provide free medical services, client legal help, and support for the disabled and elderly.”

“I'm really amazed by all the great work of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. The Federation feeds the hungry, educates youth, ensures a Jewish future, bridges cultural divides, and does so much more. Without the Federation, the Cleveland Jewish community would lose a great umbrella organization that supports it and makes sure it reaches a strong future. I've definitely benefitted from numerous Federation beneficiary agencies throughout my life.”

“They help build Jewish lives in even foreign countries. Without them we would lose some of our connection to Jews around the world.”

“I appreciate how the Maltz Museum preserves Jewish History for generations to come, educating non-Jews on the ways Jewish life has persisted for years.”

"I attended the JCC preschool, went to Camp Wise for 7 summers, and frequently use their building to work out. I've really benefitted from the JCC'S presence.”

“I went to Mandel JDS from Kindergarten to 8th grade and had a great experience there. It is a strong school that lives up to its mission to educate Jewish Cleveland students about Judaism.”

MENORAH PARK FOUNDATION: Menorah Park and Montefiore
“I think this organization is truly like no other, they help senior citizens who are Jewish and non-Jewish. My grandma went to Menorah Park, and she absolutely loved it when she was there.”

“What stood out to me about JAFI is how dedicated they are to preserving the Jewish-Zionist future.”

“It's important to cater to all the educational needs in the Jewish community, and Yeshiva Derech Hatorah provides such an opportunity to young Orthodox Jews.”

“All of these organizations do so much to help the Jewish community and I’d like to thank all of them for being there to help us.”

Ethan Dobres is a senior at Solon High School. He is a dedicated member of BBYO and B’nai Jeshurun Congregation. Ethan participated in the Racial Justice Roundtable during the 2020-2021 year at @Akiva. He is on the Solon High School Marching Band as squad leader and competes at trivia tournaments all over Ohio as part of the Solon High School Academic Challenge Team. In his free time, Ethan was a Wikipedia Content Creator – writing and publishing two articles on behalf of the Remember the Women Institute. He is also a student mentor at Solon High School. Ethan’s philanthropic role model is his mother, Wendy. He learned that it is important to donate time and financial resources to those who are struggling.

The 2021-2022 cohort of the Saltzman Youth Panel met for the third time this past week. The mere location of our session was significant: the newly built Mandel Jewish Day School library. Even though I graduated from Mandel JDS three years ago, this area was unrecognizable to me and the other alumni in the group. Seeing the school’s renovations directly showed me how the support of the Cleveland Jewish community can make a major and tangible impact.

In our first activity, we split up into two groups and were told to complete a jigsaw puzzle. After about ten minutes of hard work, we realized something was up. The puzzle was, in fact, two puzzles combined in one box, making it impossible to solve. We talked about this exercise’s meaning as a group and came to the conclusion that it symbolized how sometimes we don’t have the right pieces or resources for everything we wanted to accomplish.

Though the panel is usually led by Anna Novik and Kelly Rubanenko, Cleveland’s Israeli Shaliach Itay Margalit joined us to take Kelly’s place. Itay demonstrated one of the key tasks of the Jewish Federation  to build a connection between Cleveland Jewish teens and the state of Israel. We all really enjoyed getting to know Itay better. Another activity of the session was watching a video about an elderly Ukranian woman named Liliya who lives on just $2 a day and how the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which is supported by the Federation, provides major assistance to her. The panel had a meaningful discussion about the need to help Jews worldwide and the significance of organizations like the JDC.

After watching the video, we broke into smaller groups and discussed what we personally viewed as the most important Jewish values. Then, we formed a panel-wide conversation to create an agreement on what Jewish values will drive our decisions on allocating money to community organizations. We were asked to pick just three, but we decided as a group that there were four values that we really identified with. About 20 minutes into the discussion, we settled on Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), B’Tzelem Elohim (created in the image of G-d), Gemilut Chasadim (acts of kindness), and Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof (justice, justice, you shall pursue) were the most significant Jewish values to us. Immediately following this agreement, we chose three important concepts that we’ll look for when evaluating grant proposals: equality, Jewish and secular education, and access to resources to create future leaders.

Leaving the productive session, I felt proud to be part of a motivated group of teens that is spending the year working to benefit our community. However, we don’t leave our support for the Cleveland Jewish community at our meetings. As we near the end of the Jewish Federation’s 2022 Campaign for Jewish Needs, our panel has a 100% pledge rate for the Campaign! We’re all really looking forward to our next session of Saltzman, where we’ll share presentations we’ve made about Jewish Federation beneficiary agencies and the great work they do to serve the community. As 2022 approaches, the Saltzman Youth Panel is ready to take on the upcoming needs of the Cleveland Jewish community, and  like we talked about in our session  to make the world a better place.

Noah Tannenbaum is a senior at Beachwood High School and a member of Park Synagogue. Noah is actively involved in BBYO, Beachwood Student Athlete Leadership Council, Beachwood Swim Club and Jewish Teen Basketball League. In his free time, Noah volunteers at local charities and nonprofits. Noah’s philanthropic role model is his grandfather who taught him the meaning of tzedakah and the importance of helping the community. Noah believes that giving time is just as important as giving money and is proud to follow in his grandfather's footsteps.

Super Sunday was an awesome day for me and the whole Saltzman Youth Panel. It was great for the teen panelists to meet again (outside & in-person) and discuss WHY and HOW we are “Here for good”. Everyone’s answers were similar and connected and I think this shows how our panel truly cares about impacting our community and making sure we stay strong. In addition, I learned that there are so many people in our local community who care deeply and want to give back, and was inspired to see so many volunteers representing different organizations around Cleveland.

A highlight was hearing from Campaign Chair, Bradley Sherman, and Super Sunday Co-chair, Rachael Weinberg, about their philanthropic role models and the importance of transmitting their family values from generation to generation. They work so hard to meet needs and inspire others to join their efforts. This reinforced that even though we may have different life experiences, the Jewish community strives to connect and support everyone in our community.

I am very proud to report that, as a group, the Saltzman Youth panel raised over $3,000 in under an hour. I was responsible for reaching out to fellow high school students from the area and was very happy with the responses I received. Everyone I called or texted was so happy to give a pledge! As a teen, I never realized just how much of an impact the different aspects of our Cleveland Jewish community have on my life. To me, saying I'm “here for good” means more than just being a part of the Jewish community, it means giving back, becoming deeply involved, and making sure our community is supporting everyone.

Zoe Ellenbogen is a junior at Shaker Heights High School. Zoe is a member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, In her free time, she is a member of the Youth City Club, an assistant Martial Arts instructor, and is a 4th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Zoe's philanthropic role model is her Grandmother and is the reason why she applied to be on the Saltzman Youth Panel. Some of Zoe's earliest and most cherished memories are volunteering at the hospital with her grandmother when she was just 10 years old.

As someone who has grown up in Beachwood, I am extremely grateful for the unique opportunities afforded to me because I live in a predominantly Jewish area, and the Saltzman Youth Panel is no exception! My highlights from the first session were getting to just be in a room with people who have not only shared the Jewish experience with me, but have similar goals in wanting to give back to the community. I was pleasantly surprised at how much of it was left for us to do independently, and appreciated that it wasn’t an overstructed or pre-designed activity designed by the leaders. In that thread, I found that both the fellow panelists and leaders were super friendly and extremely willing to help out, which definitely alleviated my stress about being a new member. Before we started our meeting, we did two activities I found really interesting.

First, we went around and shared where we would donate 1 million dollars to, and I found it was a really unique but meaningful way to get to know my fellow panelists, and it was awesome to go around and realize I shared passions with many of them, and definitely eased my nerves. The next icebreaker we did was the “put a finger down if… “ game, but Jewish edition. It was really cool to see how much in common I had with these people I had never met before, and made me feel at home surrounded by people who also attended a Jewish summer camp, went to Israel, or shared something else in common with me.

During the meeting we received our interview assignments and made a Brit Lashon Hatov or an agreement for our sessions which made me feel more confident speaking up in the next session. Something else I found helpful was the outline for scheduling an interview, because as someone who has never scheduled an interview it was helpful to get an idea of an appropriate timeline for the interview and project in general. Overall, a really awesome experience to be able to be a part of and something I would recommend to anyone looking to get more involved with their community but isn’t sure how. I'm most excited to learn more about different opportunities where Judaism and community outreach intersect, and I can’t wait to see what this year holds!

Learn More: Federation, Teens