WASHINGTON (JTA) — For years, Matthew Baratz listened as his Hebrew high school teacher and mentor, Steve Glassman, shared stories of children and adults falling victim to brain tumors.
“I had heard how common [brain tumors] were, but it never really caught my attention,” said Baratz, 17, of Phoenix, Ariz.
Then three years ago, Baratz’s grandfather — his mother’s father — became one of those victims. The devastating personal connection to the disease inspired his involvement with Students Supporting Brain Tumor Research and his decision to become a member of the Arizona organization’s executive board this year, he said.
“I owed it to myself and to Steve,” Baratz said.
Glassman started SSBTR in 2002, and today it is the largest student-run nonprofit in Arizona. The organization raises funds for brain tumor research and educates students about the disease by observing live brain surgeries, touring brain tumor research laboratories and listening to lectures from leading scientists.
In the past year, Baratz has facilitated monthly volunteer meetings, coordinated musical entertainment, and enlisted corporate sponsorships and service providers to support SSBTR’s annual walkathon, which took place on the grounds of a Phoenix-area high school on Feb. 22. The event raised nearly $50,000, and Baratz personally thanked the 3,500 walkers during the opening ceremony.
A senior at the Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, Baratz plays piano and guitar, despite having no formal musical training, he said. He plans to study music business or music technology in whatever college he chooses to attend.
“I had the experience to step up to the plate [with SSBTR], and it was a really good use of my time senior year,” Baratz said. “I bonded with my high school mentor and made my mom proud!”
JTA spoke to Baratz about his transition to Jewish manhood, his favorite Jewish holiday food and his eclectic musical preferences.
JTA: Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had so far?
Baratz: During my confirmation, being able to see the same audience that was there at my bar mitzvah and realizing how much of a transformation I’d had was a really gratifying experience. It forced me to realize that the transition to Jewish manhood wasn’t achieved overnight and my bar mitzvah was just the beginning.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Hanukkah, but not anything to do with presents. I literally love the latkes that my mom makes. It’s definitely because of the food.
Now that you are graduating, what advice would you give to your successors at Students Supporting Brain Tumor Research?
Meet as many people as possible because you never know how some person can end up being helpful. Everyone has some type of connection, and there are more opportunities to expand the work that you are doing.
What do you think you want to be doing when “you grow up,” or what would you like to be doing professionally in perhaps five or 10 years?
I want to be a record producer. Collaborating with someone on music is an awesome bond.
Who are you listening to in your iTunes library?