Finding My Community
By Emily Perman, Alumni Council, Marin/San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation
Three years ago while sitting in the green-carpeted meeting room cautiously munching on the pre-filled cups of pretzels, I pondered what I had gotten myself into. As I waited to interview for a spot on the Jewish Teen Foundation board, a flurry of butterflies released in my belly. The page of my mother’s sample questions lay shaking in my hands, now crinkled on all four corners as a result of a meticulous habit I practice when nervous. A sophomore in high school, I awaited my first official interview.
As a Jew, tikkun olam or “repairing the world” is an important part of my religion. And here I was, ready to learn how to carry out this Jewish value. But I worried that I wouldn’t be chosen. I was only peripherally involved in Jewish culture. Attending Passover dinners filled with small toys resembling plagues, spending summers at Jewish residential camp on the Oregon coast, attending Jewish day school, and reluctantly preparing for my Bat Mitzvah made up a majority of my Jewish identity. Despite the many opportunities my community presented to me, I had struggled to find a connection to my religion.
When my name was called for my interview, I quietly confirmed my readiness, self-consciously pulled down my skirt, and entered the interview room. A year later, I confidently sat behind the same table where I once timidly stuttered out responses to questions, as it was now my turn to interview potential new Board members for the Marin/San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation where I was now a leader.
My favorite aspect of the Jewish Teen Foundation has been meeting new Jewish teens and collaboratively coming to consensus about important decisions.
And despite what I thought was limited involvement in the Jewish community, I discovered I had more than I thought to offer as a board member. Through many experiences participating in and observing other communities, I realized that the element of Judaism that connected me to this religion was ‘community’ itself. My stays in a kibbutz (a communal settlement in Israel) and a very small fishing village in Costa Rica taught me that communities are important universally. More importantly, when my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she and our family received tremendous support from our community. During that time I strongly felt the caring they provided us through meals, blessings and friendly visits. This experience taught me the significance in giving back to my community, which sparked my passion for volunteering as a tutor at the Canal Alliance, a center for underprivileged youth near my house.
As a board member, my strong belief in the importance of community compelled me to encourage my board’s mission statement my second year: “The Marin/San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation will fund organizations that promote self-sufficiency for at-risk youth in the Bay Area and Israel by providing them with tools to improve their lives.” That year, the board also chose to make a grant to the youth scholarship program I had volunteered with at Canal Alliance.
Now in my third year, as a member of the Alumni Council of the Jewish Teen Foundation, I am able to share my knowledge and experience about philanthropy in new ways. I volunteered at the Bay Area Jewish Teen Foundations retreat in the fall; last month I led an Alumni Council meeting at which everyone made their first pledge to the Jewish Community Federation; I joined fellow alumni on Super Sunday; and I am currently organizing site visits to previous grantees, including Canal Alliance.
After being a part of, and observing, many communities around the world, I now can use my knowledge about the importance and fundamentals of community to participate in new opportunities in the future.