Student pioneers helped get Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy Board off the ground in 2017

Lauren Glusman of River Hills doesn’t remember the particulars of the Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy Board application she filled out just before her freshman year in high school, nearly four years ago. But she vividly recalls the feelings it provoked.

“It was a very reflective application, so it allowed me to really internalize who I am and what I can contribute,” she said. Glusman, a senior at University School of Milwaukee who will be attending Duke University this fall, said she was also excited about being part of something “big and new and impactful for the Milwaukee community.”  

She’s one of four teens who have been on the Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy Board since its inception in 2017. The others, also high school seniors, are Jordan Sadoff of Mequon, Maya Biskowitz of Whitefish Bay and Ava Wales of Glendale.  

Wales and her older sister Blair, a sophomore at the University of Florida, sparked the initiative, now a project of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.  

“We had seen it in other communities with a large Jewish population and saw a need for it,” Ava Wales said. “We knew that Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country and that obviously affects the livelihood of people in the city versus people in the suburbs.”  

In 2016, they proposed the idea to Caren Goldberg, then chief development officer of the Federation and executive director of its Jewish Community Foundation. The following September, 15 teens gathered around a long table at Hillel Milwaukee’s Joseph & Vera Zilber Hillel Student Center, beside the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, for their first meeting with then program coordinator Anna Goldstein 

Sadoff was then a recent graduate of the Milwaukee Jewish Day School. She said MJDS had provided her with a good foundation for Board service. It also, she said, offered her the opportunity to continue an established tradition.  

“My family has always been big in the Federation, my mom and grandmother were on the board of the Federation’s Women’s Division,” she said, “so it felt like a very natural choice for me to join the Board and nourish my passion for community service and philanthropy.” 

Four years later, she said she has a broader sense of what philanthropy is and all the causes that are important. What she hadn’t fully realized going in, she said, was the amount of effort required to reach consensus around funding decisions. What she’ll miss, she said, is having a place where she can talk about philanthropy and community service with peers. 

“It’s not something people my age generally talk about,” she said, “and it’s something I enjoy talking about.”  

This year, that conversation has moved from being in person around a large table to a virtual room, with the now 46-member Board gathering in front of monitors scattered throughout metro Milwaukee. Site visits, which occurred before the pandemic, have been suspended. Glusman was one of three Board members representing Milwaukee at a tikkun olam retreat in Chicago. She was looking forward to returning this year, but it was cancelled.   

“It was an amazing experience,” Glusman said. “When I think about Jewish Teen Philanthropy before the pandemic, I think about reaching the peak of my appreciation for being in the same room as people with common goals and interests in bettering our communities. I miss that so much. I was one of three people who went, and we were a force to be reckoned with. We were a small group but we were mighty and we had a lot to say and a lot to contribute and it felt great to be the spokespeople for Milwaukee and the nonprofit organizations within the city.” 

What matters, though, has stayed the same.   

“We are teaching the next generation the value of tzedekah and giving, said Jennifer Saber, Teen Philanthropy Coordinator.  

Glusman has some advice for teens thinking about joining the Board. 

“I would highly encourage you to do so,” she said, “because not only does it introduce you to a great group of people who push you intellectually, it allows you to find a passion for influencing positive change.”