TZEDAKAH HAS BEEN A CORE VALUE in my family for generations. My great grandparents were active within their local Cape Town, South Africa Jewish community, and they passed down their love of tzedakah to my grandfather, Sam. My grandfather’s influence can be found in the way I practice this principle with my family. It’s in the tender moments on Shabbat when I teach   my children the importance of giving to those less fortunate and in the volunteer work I pursue to create a better world for my children. I cherish the lessons my grandfather taught me and hope they continue to inspire my family and influence how we practice tzedakah for generations to come.

I grew up in the suburbs of Cape Town, within a close-knit Jewish community of 20,000 people. My grandfather Sam was a builder by trade, and he dedicated himself to volunteer work within the community. Sam was especially involved with local homes for the handicapped and elderly. We shared many Saturdays in his workshop where he’d tell me about his service projects and we’d work on small pieces together, such as sanding a door or building a chair.

Though my grandfather didn’t seek credit, he felt pride in being able to apply his talents to helping others. Every now and then he’d take me to see our Saturday projects actually being used by the people he served. I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps and make a difference in people’s lives in my own unique way, I just had to figure out how.

When I attended high school, living with my family in South Florida, I learned to code and fix computers. I was already an active volunteer at my school, but my grandfather encouraged me to share my engineering skills with others who could benefit from my abilities.The first time I volunteered my programming abilities was to support the National Conference for Community and Justice. My work helped to increase productivity, which enabled them to hold even more community events. I felt an extra sense of satisfaction that I could be there for others in a valuable, unique way, just as my grandfather had done as a builder.

Currently, I sit on the board of Reboot where I help to scale our impact to the broader Jewish community through digital initiatives. I am also an advisor to HarvardX, an online education non-profit, where I help build high quality online access to education. Most recently, I approached Harold Grinspoon with a few ideas of how I could be helpful to PJ Library. Luckily, he agreed and I’m now collaborating with others interested in furthering PJ Library’s mission.

My time as an advisor for PJ Library has been personally rewarding, not just in the work we’re doing, but in how I’m able to share it with my children.Though they are still a little young to fully understand the impact of volunteering, I look forward to teaching them more and more as they grow, instilling in them the same love of tzedakah that has been alive in my family for generations.


BRENT TWORETZKY is Executive Vice President, Product, at XO Group, where he leads product management, design, and user research. He focuses on scalable ways to improve the modern Jewish and broader community, and serves on the board of Reboot, the Nextgen board of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and the advisory committee of HarvardX. Brent earned bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Statistics from Harvard, and an MBA from Stanford.