September 16, 2019

Dylan Siegel: Helping Third World Children

Photos courtesy of the Siegel Family

Students preparing for their b’nai mitzvah often are encouraged by their families and synagogue communities to take on meaningful social justice projects.

“We’ve come to call it ‘tikkun olam projects,’” said Stephen S. Wise Temple Rabbi Ron Stern of the synagogue’s b’nai mitzvah programs. “A mitzvah … means keeping kosher, reading Torah, observing Shabbat, things like that. Tikkun olam actually says to the kids that you’re doing something that on a broader scope has an impact on the world. It’s not just about your own personal mitzvah observance.”

B’nai mitzvah tikkun olam projects are about “realizing we need to do everything we can to inspire the next generation to take ownership and action, and fix some of the brokenness in the world,” Stern added.

In that vein, the synagogue ensures students receive messages from different
places so they see tikkun olam not as an add-on, but as an integral part of the bar
and bat mitzvah experience.

“We start when they are in fifth grade, talking about all the pieces of bar and bat mitzvah, and one of those pieces is tikkun olam,” Stern said. “By the time they’re about 10 months out, we have a volunteer who calls them and says, ‘What’s your project? Can I help you choose your project? Here are some resources.’ ”

While the synagogue encourages the tikkun olam project not to be about money, fundraising is another story, since it’s more than writing a check, Stern said.

Photos courtesy of the Siegel Family

Dylan Siegel, who will become a bar mitzvah in August, is one such fundraiser. He has been involved in social justice activities for more than half his life. When he was 6
years old, he wrote a book called “Chocolate Bar” to raise money to help cure his best friend Jonah’s rare genetic liver disease. To date, the book has raised approximately $1.5 million, all of which has gone toward researching
a cure.

“I’ve been inspired by Wise Elementary, who reinforced
tikkun olam every day.” — Dylan Siegel

Now, Dylan not only wants to make strides as a young social entrepreneur, he wants to help others do the same. For his tikkun olam project, he is raising money to send himself, along with teenagers who live in Third World countries, to the 2019 FutureHack Global Innovators Bootcamp in Boston this summer.

“I knew there were applicants around the world who could not afford it, so I thought it would be awesome to raise the money to send others, as well,” Dylan said.

“He’s already [raised money] to send two kids, and he’s hoping to raise enough money to send a third,” Dylan’s mother,
Debra, said. “These are amazing teens in their own right and are doing things in their own communities but would have no [other] way of attending a program like this. Those kids are going to go back to their communities and start a business that will make a difference. It’s hard to even know how many people will be reached
by this.”

Dylan’s drive does not surprise Stern. “Dylan is an exceptional kid. [He] is one of the youngest participants,” he said.

“I’ve been inspired by Wise Elementary,” Dylan said, along with his current school, Milken Community School, “who reinforced tikkun olam every day. I give them a lot of credit for teaching me tikkun olam and how to help the world.”

To donate to Dylan’s mitzvah project, click here.