If a teen joins Milwaukee Jewish Philanthropy this year, they’ll find themselves working with an enthused future rabbi whose talents include connecting Taylor Swift’s music and Torah.
Dalilah Bernier is the new director of teen initiatives for Milwaukee Jewish Federation; the role is to include overseeing Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy and serving teens through Federation partner organizations.
Teen Philanthropy, Taylor
The Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy Board is a community-wide program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. A diverse group of Jewish students in grades 9-12 attend sessions centered around grant making, non-profit functions, and the philanthropic model through a Jewish lens. Students choose beneficiaries of actual philanthropy as part of the learning process.
It will be Bernier’s role to facilitate the program, and she’s sure to bring her own approach to the annual effort.
“My personal passion is finding ways to make Judaism meaningful,” said Bernier. She enjoys connecting Judaism with the things “teens are doing in their everyday life.”
An example, Bernier once co-created a learning session with Lily Jasper-Zaccardo, Jewish educator at Hillels of Westchester, that connects Torah and Taylor Swift. The session juxtaposes the international pop star with Jacob.
In the Torah, Jacob struggles with an angel, or God, and is then blessed; his name is changed to Israel, which means to wrestle with God.
Jacob grew from the struggle, said Bernier, and later became the father of the tribes of Israel.
In Swift’s newest album, “Midnights,” she sings about being her own worst enemy. Swift struggles with herself, sees herself as the problem.
“There are responses to this parsha that say that actually, perhaps Jacob wasn’t wrestling with God or an angel. Maybe he was wrestling with himself. And because he overcame that, that’s what made him better.”
Bernier’s lesson raises questions: What can we learn from our struggles? What if instead of being our own worst enemies, could we be our own cheerleaders?
After Jewish educators and others on social media got excited about this approach, Bernier and a colleague were asked to present on it at the Hillel International Global Assembly, held last December in Dallas.
If drawing a line between Torah and Taylor sounds like the work of an enthused young rabbi, there may be a reason for that. Bernier has entered rabbinical school.
Bernier grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and attended Florida Atlantic University in south Florida before accepting a Springboard Fellowship at Hillel Milwaukee. After her two-year Springboard stint, she served as director of education there for a year.
Now, while in her new role for Federation, she’s attending rabbinical school remotely. The trans-denominational school is the Acadamy for Jewish Religion, California, based in Los Angeles.
Beyond Teen Philanthropy, Bernier said her role will also be to serve all teens in the community. Part of her approach “is going to be to cater to the professional so they can better provide experiences for Jewish teens.”
And you can be sure she’ll be sensitive to the needs of Jewish teens who are underprivileged. Bernier is not shy to point out that much of her Jewish experience, including her high school semester in Israel, has been funded through the philanthropy of others.
Now, a grateful beneficiary of that philanthropy will be teaching and leading students – on philanthropy.
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The Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy Board applications are due Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. Applications can be found at bit.ly/tpb2023. For more information, contact Dalilah Bernier at DalilahB@MilwaukeeJewish.org.