Repair of the World: How Tikkun Olam Award Winners Are Making a Difference

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Tikkun Olam 2013 award winners
The 2013 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award recipients were honored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation on Aug. 26, 2013, at a celebratory luncheon held at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. Pictured, from left, are Skylar Dorosin, Talia Young, Max Wallack, Nick Lowinger, Jordan Elist, Jackie Safier, Dan Safier, Ellie Dubin, Jake Bernstein, Ben Hirschfeld, Talia Leman and Ido Kedar. Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards

The traditional Jewish concept of tikkun olam – or “repair of the world” – blends charity, action and, as celebrated by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, innovation. The foundation each year funds the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards to recognize the public service projects of Jewish teens. The program kicked off in 2007 with five awards to California teens and has since expanded, now honoring up to 10 teens, five from California and five from other communities across the country.

The teens get more than a framed certificate. Each teen is awarded $36,000, money to be used to further public service work or education.

“We wanted to make a bold statement to recognize Jewish teens who have engaged in extraordinary volunteer projects — to serve as role models for others to make the world a better place,” says Helen Diller.

“Second, it is intended to be a meaningful investment into their future — these teens’ projects and educations — to give them the capital that will help them leverage and expand their social action and learning.”

The award amount wasn’t picked out of hat, Diller explains.

“The letters in Hebrew have corresponding numeric values. The numeric value of the word chai or ‘life’ is 18. So 36, which is twice chai, has a very deep meaning in Jewish culture for giving in support of worthy causes and fixing the brokenness of our world.”

A variety of green enterprises

Many of the recognized projects have environmental themes.

Jordan Elist, a 2013 winner, combined recycling and feeding the hungry with the creation of Save a Bottle, Save a Life, a nonprofit food bank financed with nickel and dimes – the standard deposit in California on bottles and cans. Save a Bottle, Save a Life has raised nearly $22,500 over the last five years and donated 30,000 pounds of goods to food banks across Southern California.

Naftali Moed, a 2011 winner, established the Oceana High School Garden in Pacifica, Calif.

A solar-powered lamp provided by Lit! Solar

Ben Hirschfeld, a 2013 winner, founded Lit! Solar to distribute solar-powered lanterns in the developing world (seen at right).

“Our solar lanterns help in so many ways,” says Hirschfeld. “They help with literacy, because students can read and study longer at night. They fight poverty, because they not only save families money on kerosene lamps, but also allow the parents to extend their productive hours into the evening. They aid health, because students must no longer breathe toxic kerosene smoke to study.”

Elist and Hirschfeld plowed the $36,000 grants back into their programs. Moed also continued to pay it forward.

“Some of the money went directly to the garden for continued growth,” Moed says.

The rest of the money “was given to the nonprofit Mindworks USA, a group dedicated to increasing the accessibility to higher education, and subsequently enhance and advance the efforts of those engaged in tikkun olam.”