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B’nai Tzedek teen philanthropy program takes artistic turn


Gertrude Shankman, a Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging resident, and Adam DeLuca in front of the B’nai Tzedek triptych, currently on display at Handmaker. The painting includes a poem by DeLuca. (Bryan Davis)

Eighteen-year-old Adam DeLuca has participated in the B’nai Tzedek Tucson teen philanthropy program since 2007. Now starting his freshman year at the University of Arizona, DeLuca has also embarked on a lifetime of giving. “Before I joined B’nai Tzedek I understood that charity was a good thing,” DeLuca told the AJP. “Not just because your parents tell you, but because some people need this charity to maintain their lives.”

Founded in 2006, the local chapter of B’nai Tzedek is a program of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. This year’s kickoff event will be held on Sunday, Sept. 11.

When DeLuca first joined the group, he donated the money he raised to Arts for All, a local organization providing accessible arts education and experiences for children, especially those with special needs. Later, he contributed to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national nonprofit fighting against bigotry and hate, using litigation and education to promote equal opportunity for all.

After a while “my mom suggested, ‘why not do some art?’” says DeLuca, who then began decorating chairs for Chairs for Charity, which supported local nonprofits by auctioning off the one-of-a-kind chairs. In addition to taking art classes at Catalina Foothills High School, he also writes poetry “for fun.” DeLuca read his poems at the last two annual B’nai Tzedek Stone Soup recognition events.

Around 125 local Jewish teens, 8th graders through high school seniors, have been raising funds for the charities of their choice through B’nai Tzedek. The program was initially supported by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Currently, Bryan Davis, youth and Holocaust education coordinator at the Federation’s Coalition for Jewish Education, directs B’nai Tzedek.

At the group’s spring retreat in April, DeLuca and other students created a graphic and collaborative example of tzedakah, a triptych (three-panel painting), with local artists Gail Roberts and Lisa Mischler. The multi-layered piece has been on display at the Tucson Jewish Community Center all summer and was moved to Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging last weekend.

Being white in this world as a majority/Hasn’t affected me more until I approached the life of a minority, the first couplet in a poem by DeLuca, is displayed on the triptych. The last couplet exemplifies his and other teens’ participation in B’nai Tzedek: I’ll take advantage of my life, and always reach for more/If not for myself, then I’ll do it for those four (a reference to four children mentioned earlier in the poem).

This summer, DeLuca extended his artistic activities by volunteering at the UA Poetry Center’s summer camp. “I’ve been doing poetry most of my life,” he told the AJP, “and I won’t give it up as a business major. I’ll always do it for myself, and it’s a great way to meet people I may not have met otherwise and work together.”

Owen Kuropatkin, 17, a senior who has been part of B’nai Tzedek since his freshman year at Tucson High Magnet School, also worked on the triptych. “Originally, the tree of life [on the triptych] was dead and twisted,” but the students collaboratively turned it into a “blossoming tree,” says Kuropatkin, adding that in B’nai Tzedek “you have the power to turn poverty into something good.”

Helping others is “as rewarding to us as it is to [the recipients],” explains DeLuca. “No matter what I do in my future, I’ll always be donating, be involved in some charitable organization.” Just like his art, he says, “once you start you can’t stop.”

What:     B’nai Tzedek Tucson kickoff for new/continuing members

Who:       Jewish teens in 8th grade and up d their parents

When:     Sunday, Sept. 11, 1-3 p.m.

Where:   Tucson Jewish Community Center