Narrator Maurice Korish: What makes a leader? Courage, determination, talent, tenacity, empathy, creativity, bravery, drive. The 2023 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipients are not waiting for others to step up. They are taking the lead.
The 15 awardees who join a growing network of nearly 200 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam recipients are driving change and inspiring their peers and communities to join them. They’re innovating, re-imagining, dreaming, and tackling some of the biggest areas in need of change. These extraordinary young leaders are committed to living the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. They are ambassadors of good, of hope, of change. They are leaders.
Lily Kanter: The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards celebrate young change makers who are leading the way for all of us. They are tackling the world’s biggest issues and challenges with innovation, passion, and determination. As a chair of the program, I am honored to work with a committee of over 150 volunteer leaders who help select the awardees.
I am truly inspired by the 2023 cohort and the tremendous impact they are having. No matter what generation we are in, we can all learn from these extraordinary young leaders.
Meaza Light-Orr: Kids for Kololo started with a dream. As an Ethiopian American adoptee, I understand how important literacy and access to education is. In my birth village, students had to travel hours each day on foot just to receive a formal education.
I had a dream of raising a hundred thousand dollars to build a middle school. I got friends and family members, and community members engaged, and all of these efforts culminated in a beautiful fundraiser where we raised over $120,000.
Going to Ethiopia for the first time since when I was three was incredibly moving. To see the school thriving, to see the students so happy and engaged was just so touching. The Kololo School is not simply a school; it is a central pillar in this community. It will empower the success of their next generation.
My last name means light in Hebrew, and it has been an absolute joy to bring light and opportunity to those in Kololo, Ethiopia.
Max Blacksten: Being out in nature is such an ethereal experience. There’s something inside of me that just feels a little bit different when I’m connected to it, and I think it’s just so important that that be protected.
As the executive director of Youth Climate Action Team, I’m able to bring my passion for the outdoors into action with other young people across the world. Youth Climate Action Team has over 2000 registered volunteers doing in-person climate activism, whether that is in Uganda planting trees, taking water samples in Canada, doing direct action in Pakistan, or working on legislation within the United States.
The most fulfilling part of my role is seeing young people grow from just having a passion for youth activism to becoming full-fledged activists in their own right. So I think it’s so important to not just be activists, but build activists and have young people lead the drive to a cleaner future.
Jake Hammerman: Watching the news and seeing what seniors were going through during the pandemic really stuck with me. I thought about my own grandparents who struggle from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to find a way to help.
I started giving tennis lessons to youth in the community, but instead of receiving payment, I asked for donations to be sent to Meals on Wheels. The tennis lessons received a lot of interest, and I knew that there was potential to create something bigger, and I started to get other high school tennis athletes to join me.
Now four summers in, we have a team of 30 instructors that have given over 900 tennis lessons and raised $40,000 for Meals on Wheels. Seeing the joy on seniors’ faces is really rewarding. It’s not just about the meals; it’s also about the human connection.
Each generation can learn a lot from each other. It’s been really inspiring to see the dedication my peers and friends have brought to Impactful Tennis. Together we’re creating impact and supporting seniors.
Aron Goodman: My Grandmother, Tova, is a Holocaust survivor. When she was five and a half years old, she was sent to Auschwitz. It’s really meaningful for me to be able to speak to my grandmother firsthand, and I think others need to have that kind of experience one-on-one with a survivor.
I came up with the idea of using TikTok and social media to educate my generation about the Holocaust and share her story with the world. Before I knew it, we got over 500,000 followers tuning in to what we have to say and over 80 million views.
TikTok is really great because it enables you to create dialogue. We can interact with the viewers, and the viewers can interact with us. So we have people from Albania, Australia, Africa, who have never met a survivor, tuning in live to ask questions, and we talk about antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and her experiences in Auschwitz.
Knowing that we’ve reached so many people with our message is really what makes it a success for me. I want my audience to know not to be a bystander and to never forget, and we’re gonna continue to reach more and more people around the world.
Lily Messing: Our generation is not waiting to make change. I started 100+ Teens in my local community of Tucson, Arizona. We have donated more than $30,000 locally. I’ve also created 22 chapters across United States and as far as Islamabad, Pakistan.
At our quarterly meetings, members donate $25 where we then select a local nonprofit to receive our collective donation. When we bring together like-minded teens who really wanna make a difference in their community, substantial and meaningful change can be made. One of our most recent donations was to an organization constructing a tiny home complex for teens exiting the foster care system who would likely be homeless without this complex. We’ve donated to mental health services for children, supplies for homeless youth, and a variety of environmental causes.
Our members are seeing that they can make real change, and these philanthropic values will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Benjamin Joel: The education gap that existed pre-pandemic in the most vulnerable communities, students of color and from low-income communities, was only exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. I knew that I had to act, so I co-founded Intutorly, a non-profit organization providing free online one-on-one tutoring to underserved students.
Our more than 1000 tutors have provided over 15,000 hours of tutoring to more than 1200 students in 35 states and 10 countries. We match students and tutors living in different parts of the world, sharing each other’s customs, holidays, and languages. I tutor a 13-year-old girl living in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Andre, a Ukrainian refugee, in English as a second language.
I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with Intutorly, but we’re not done yet. We will keep working every day to close the educational gap.
Danielle Wasserman: I’ve always been interested in business from a young age, but when I first went to my local public high school, it was almost a shock to see the limited financial literacy knowledge among the majority of my peers.
So InvestNow Clubs is a nonprofit which brings investment clubs to schools in primarily historically disadvantaged lower-income communities. Some of the activities of the club include investing real money in the stock market, hosting guest speakers, gaining mentorship opportunities, and learning how to prepare for a job and interact with business professionals. And the goal of the club is really to help others create financial stability and alleviate intergenerational poverty.
One thing that I personally love about InvestNow Club is the diversity within all the club members. They come from various backgrounds, neighborhoods, and communities, but all share a common desire to learn and create financial stability for whatever they want to do in life.
Julian Berkowitz-Sklar: For the first 10 years of my life, I grew up in Costa Rica where I really forged this deep connection with nature. I really saw how biodiversity enables amazing ecosystems that have now been threatened by human behavior. These experiences inspired me to help co-found Nature Now International. We have over 30 partners with universities, businesses, governments, and have been able to engage over 300 youth in protecting the wildlife and its spectacular biodiversity. Some of our projects include online internships, outreach programs for underserved elementary students, compost programs in different high schools, and reforestation projects.
One of the main aspects of our program is an annual project in Costa Rica in which we bring California students to meet with local youth to help reforest main groves, paint murals, monitor sea turtles, and really connect people from different cultures and backgrounds, in this unified effort. It’s really been inspiring to see young people come together to address our environment and help protect our future.
Anabelle Lombard: The Equal Rights Amendment is very simple. It’s only 24 words, and it states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
It’s been a hundred years since the ERA was first introduced, and it’s still not ratified in the Constitution. That is what Generation Ratify is fighting for. We are a nationwide movement of young people, young queer people, young women, young gender minorities. We have over 12,000 members in all 50 states, and through empowerment, advocacy, and education, we are fighting for gender equality.
As a co-founder and the creative director, it’s my job to bring art into the movement as a tool for change, I really wanna be loud. I wanna be vocal. And tikkun olam means using my creative sense, my artistic sense to make our voices heard. For this issue, I wanna show that activism doesn’t have to look one way. We can use our diverse skills and funnel them into this shared passion and shared cause. As young people, we demand gender equality, and we are making change happen.
Steven Hoffen: If you haven’t heard of hydroponics, it is a simple and sustainable method of farming that doesn’t require any soil. It can help feed people in urban areas, food deserts, and areas affected by climate change.
I first got excited about hydroponics through an organization in Israel called Sindyana of Galilee, which engaged women from both Jewish and Arab populations in hydroponics. I decided to create a documentary film called Growing Peace in the Middle East. I had the opportunity to interview two Palestinian women. They told me a bit about their backgrounds and how they became interested in hydroponics.
Creating my film was just the beginning, and since then, I’ve been building my own hydroponic systems around the world. My organization Growing Peace produces over 30,000 fresh servings each year. I’m providing fresh produce and hydroponics education to formerly incarcerated women, young children, and disabled and low-income seniors.
Hydroponics is really something that I love to do, and it really makes me happy being able to help people in need through ensuring food security in their communities.
Romy Greenwald: My grandparents are Jewish immigrants from Mexico and Cuba. I’ve always grown up hearing their immigration story and the challenges they faced. Understanding my family’s history really inspired me to start MiSendero.
There are over 1.1 million English learners in California, and oftentimes these students feel invisible. My mission with MiSendero is to not only integrate these students but integrate them as leaders. Usually, English learners are the ones receiving tutoring. We flip this dynamic and now English learners become the tutors at school, and they’re helping their English-speaking peers learn Spanish, and this has really lifted them up.
We’re across many different schools in California and Florida and have impacted over a thousand students. We also hold a series of intercultural exchange events to showcase Latino culture and foster friendships that extend beyond the school. MiSendero means my path in Spanish. I’m grateful to my family who cleared the path before me, and I will continue to clear it, for those who will come after.
Sydney Hankin: I grew up allergic to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds. Finding safe foods in supermarkets has always been a challenge. I’ve had the resources to be able to purchase those foods and cook what I need to, but for food pantries, that can be a lot more difficult. About 32 million people in the United States have food allergies.
My mission at Securing Safe Food is to make sure food pantries have the resources that they need to offer their clients allergen-free foods. We’ve formed partnerships with over 30 food pantries across the country and have donated over a hundred thousand items.
I’ve gotten a lot of friends and other young people involved in this cause everyone on our team either has food allergies themselves or has a close friend or sibling with allergies, and I think that really drives us. Walking into a food pantry and not being sure of where your next meal’s coming from is hard enough.
SSF not only provides the clients that we serve with physical items, but also a sense of dignity, and that’s one of the most important things for me.
Henry Lien: There’s more possible chess games than atoms in the universe. There’s so much to learn, so much to understand, whether that be visualization, calculation, analysis, you could find whatever you want in chess.
My goal with Chess Pals is to help level the playing field of who can play chess and who can succeed at chess by providing costs for your very low-cost programs. Chess programs are incredibly expensive, and that limits who can experience it. We’ve worked with over 800 students across the nation. Kids in our program learned about practice, hard work, dedication. All of these things are necessary to succeed anywhere and can be trained really well in chess. Along with that, they’ve also made new connections with either their friends in the class or also with our teachers who can really give them confidence and energy.
And it’s awesome to see them having that impact on these kids. So a student in Chess Pals can walk away with a skill for a game that can last a lifetime and discover something new about themselves.
Sonja Michaluk: When I’m in my basement lab, you can usually find me sitting with the microscope studying aquatic, macro invertebrates. Macroinvertebrates are organisms that lack a backbone, and there are a really useful tool in measuring environmental health with bioassessment because they show the cumulative effects of environmental stressors and pollutants over time.
I’ve been studying aquatic macroinvertebrates since I was six years old. When I was in high school, I created a method of DNA barcoding macroinvertebrates that allows more accuracy, precision, and statistical power. Using my method, researchers with a small sample can get big results on how human activity and infrastructure is affecting the health of our local waterways. This can help researchers to advise on development and construction, land conservation, and enforcement of environmental regulations.
We don’t live above the ecosystem that surrounds us. We are a part of it, and having robust data is really our strongest tool to live in harmony with the natural world.
David Ronnel: Being Jewish in the South hasn’t always been the easiest thing. I faced antisemitism and hatred for my religion and my heritage. Sometimes people made assumptions about me because they had never really met a Jewish person before, and a lot of times that was in my school’s walls.
I started to work with local politicians and community leaders to draft a bill that would require Holocaust education In all Arkansas public schools. I had never really experienced what it took to draft and write a bill. There are plenty of people who turned me down, but I just realized that I have to believe in myself and the power of my community to get things done. For three years, I created a coalition of businesses, nonprofits, interfaith leaders, Republicans, Democrats.
To finally see my bill be signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson, I was a little emotional because I felt so supported by my community, and now Arkansas is the first state in the deep south that requires Holocaust instruction. Over 300,000 students will be impacted by this. I’m so proud of our ability to overcome hate and create change.
Narrator Maurice Korish: Helen Diller had a bold vision for a better world and knew that teens could help lead the way. The fifteen 2023 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam awardees are taking challenging puzzles and creating pieces to solve them through their deep commitment to tikkun olam.
These young leaders are creating ripples of good in their communities and around the world. They are leading today.