For Andrew Belder, connecting with his faith every morning is as easy as a “phone call”. But despite growing up in a Jewish family, it wasn’t until his seventh birthday that he heard the spiritual call.
When his great-grandfather died, the teenager from Northampton began asking questions about his connection to Judaism and what it all meant. He remembers learning about his grandparents and parents’ escape from the USSR and their arrival in America, which made him realize who he is and where he comes from.
“I always felt like I learned more about my faith because it’s not something that is taught in schools,” Belder said. “Since then, I’ve always tried to channel that energy, to channel the fact that my parents and grandparents didn’t have an opportunity, and people have tried to take that opportunity away from them.”
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Today, the 19-year-old is honored for this energy and passion through the Yisroel Fund Leadership Award, which recognizes eight international teenagers under the age of 18 who have demonstrated “dedication, commitment. and outstanding leadership ”in CTeen chapters around the world, according to the CTeen website.
CTeen, short for Chabad Teen Network, is an organization for high school students to explore their Jewish faith and participate in social events and programs focused on religious customs and norms.
Belder first joined CTeen before his freshman year at Council Rock South High School, gradually getting involved by joining the governing board. There, he planned events and programs, alongside five other student leaders, for the 40 to 60 members of the local group.
One of those programs was the annual International Shabbaton, where about 4,000 Jewish teenagers gather in New York for a weekend and celebrate “being proud Jews,” Belder said. Thanks to CTeen, he learned not only about his heritage, but also about himself and his abilities.
“It was really inspiring to be able to meet other Jewish children in our surrounding community, to inspire many others and to deal with anti-Semitism as it arose,” he said. . “It was just a really good way for me to channel my leadership.”
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Rabbi Chaim Shemtov heads the local chapter of CTeen, of which Belder is a part, through the Lubavitch Synagogue in Bucks County. Shemtov and Belder joined the program at the same time, which Shemtov says is symbolic: “We kind of developed this together,” he said.
In his four years of knowing Belder, Shemtov said it was Belder’s dedication and motivation outside of his faith – in his swimming, running and business clubs – that made him a effective and “contagious” leader in CTeen.
“The programming speaks for itself, Andrew really deserved this award,” said Shemtov. “In my opinion, he is the number one under-18. There is no other Andrew.”
Along with his rabbi and the rest of CTeen, Belder “turned to his faith” and became more involved in the practice of Judaism. For two years now, he has been wrapping tefillin – black leather that Jews wear for morning prayers – and has even encouraged his friends to join him at their Sunday Tefillin Club.
Sam Salz, who has worked alongside Belder on CTeen’s board of directors this year, said he can see Belder’s energy in his faith and his mission to grow the organization and achieve more. ‘children.
“He’s just a good guy, a lot of energy, just a lot of wit and a lot of heart,” said Salz. “He was naturally fit to be one of the leaders.”
Mitchel Zilbershteyn, a sophomore at Temple University and a graduate of CR South, is former and future classmates of Belder, who plans to attend Temple this fall. Both served on the board of directors of CTeen during the 2019-2020 school year.
After leaving Bucks County and quitting the program, Zilbershteyn said he was proud of the way Belder continued to lead CTeen and admired his passion and involvement in his faith.
“I think it’s just a natural curiosity for him,” he said. “I think he definitely had a passion for Judaism… we had tons of conversations with (Rabbi Shemtov), and I certainly saw him getting more and more involved in the religious aspects.”
After graduating at the top of his high school class, Belder will begin his freshman year at Temple in August, studying finance and business analysis at the college’s Fox School of Business.
When it came to deciding where to go to school, it boiled down to two things: staying close to family and finding a Jewish community. But as he visited the Temple and spent Shabbat on campus, his mind was fixed.
“I just opened the door,” he said, “and it was the most welcoming house.”