Family Philanthropy: Repairing the World Can Start at Home

By Dr. Jeffrey Becker, Professor Emeritus, Department of Microbiology at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and East Tennessee Foundation Board Chair

Tikkun olam: the Hebrew words for repairing the world.

A heart for charity, and making a difference in the world, is something that can begin at home by teaching youth the concept of family philanthropy. One significant example lies within Knoxville’s Jewish community where family philanthropy has a name—B’nai Tzedek, a youth philanthropy project. The vision of this project is to help cultivate future leaders within the Jewish community while also giving teens the power to make a difference through tzedakah (the Hebrew word for justice, but loosely translated as charity). This deepens teens’ commitment to social action, and educates them about local and international nonprofit philanthropic organizations.

B’nai Tzedek begins teaching philanthropy through Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. When Jewish youth reach the age of 13 and have their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, they are often given money as gifts. Through the philanthropy project, the youth makes a commitment to join by donating $125 that is matched by his or her synagogue, and then also matched by the Knoxville Jewish Community Family of Funds, a supporting organization of the East Tennessee Foundation.

Charitable contributions are then made from the interest earned on the $500 fund, but the fund is also combined with many other B’nai Tzedek funds. This allows for several thousand dollars to be contributed to charities voted upon by the combined youth at an annual allocation meeting. Should the fund grow by contributions, it becomes a permanent Donor-Advised Fund in the name of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah who initiated the fund.

As East Tennessee Foundation celebrates 30 years of service this year, we turn our focus to family philanthropy. On August 23, 2016, East Tennessee Foundation will help start family-based dialogues on how to make charitable giving a part of family life through a multi-generational panel event called Generous Genes (How Family Philanthropy Can Transform a Region). Best described as a philanthropy road show, the event will make a breakfast stop in Athens, Tenn. at Tennessee Wesleyan University, a lunch top in Knoxville, Tenn. at The Foundry and a dinner stop in Johnson City, Tenn. at the Johnson City Country Club.

Fostering a heart for giving and teaching our children the values of philanthropy are important in making a difference in the world. Please plan to join us for this event. RSVPs are required by August 15, 2016 by contacting Samantha Amrick at or by calling (865) 524-1223.

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