“Open your mouth, judge righteously, and bring justice to the poor and needy.” — Tehillim 31:9
Rainier AZA #1550 is a Seattle chapter of BBYO, formerly the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. AZA stands for Aleph Tzadik Aleph, a symbol for tens of thousands of young Jewish men across the world. Aleph, for ahava, means love. Tzadik is for tzedakah, charity. The other aleph, for achdut, denotes brotherhood.
BBYO is run by ambitious teenagers wishing to make a difference. Each chapter holds elections and its members vote on their desired candidates. My job on the board is to incorporate community service into everything this group of 40 or so young men does.
At the start of my term, I envisioned Rainier helping our local community through some nice activities and programs. But I was plagued with tunnel vision: I couldn’t see the greater picture, to “bring justice to the poor and needy.” When was the last time I could say I did that? When was the last time a lot of people could say they had done that? So we, as a chapter, decided to undertake the largest world outreach program in our history.
During an all-night meeting at our president Robbie Ellenhorn’s home, the Rainier board brainstormed ideas for fundraising, for apparel, for events and activities. But when it came time to discuss ideas for charity, it was tough to come up with anything other than the typical food drive and collection of money at meetings.
Then lightning struck — a new idea presented itself: We should adopt an African child. The media permeates our perspectives on Africa as a place with a low quality of life. Not all of Africa lives that way, but the stereotypically impoverished African people is absolute reality in many places.
Through an organization called Outreach Uganda, we collected 10 profiles of people needing funding. This funding would provide for the child’s education, food, and living expenses. I narrowed this list to three options, using criteria that the sponsored individual should be similar to us: Male and in his teenage years, so Rainier’s members could relate on a more personal level with the young man they were helping—brotherhood.
We printed the profiles of the three candidates, along with a picture, some basic statistics, and personal details. We spent one meeting, an hour, deciding on whose future to change. Members spoke in front of the group to explain the logic behind choosing one candidate or another. After much deliberation, we voted.
We chose Ivan Komakech by a large majority. He is in the top 10 percent of his class at school and aspires to be a doctor. He loves soccer and has too many siblings for his parents to support any of them. Now we send Outreach Uganda $27 every month to ensure he can get through life.
He knows English and we wrote him a letter recently, but due to the long shipping period between continents we have yet to hear back. For now it’s all about collecting money during our weekly meetings.
As ambassadors to the future of a young man we will probably never meet, it is empowering to see so many people behind this cause. I have seen kids pay for Ivan over buying ice cream and candy. I frequently see kids unzip the change pouch in their wallet and turn it upside down. Sometimes we get bills larger than $10. And this makes all the difference. What does “opening my mouth, judging righteously and bringing justice to the poor and needy” mean to me? It means stepping up and not settling for what we have already. It is the essence of carving our own path in life.