By: Ashira Weiss
Andrew Belder’s energy is contagious. Talking to him you get the feeling there isn’t much that can stop him. And over the last eighteen months, that’s proven true time and again.
The Bucks County teenager has been an athletic runner and swimmer since he was eight years old and has found success in cross-country running during his high school career. When last winter’s competitive cross country season was in limbo for his team due to COVID restrictions, he decided to run a marathon. He mapped out a 13.1 km course and set a date, raising money for the Travis Manion Foundation that supports Veterans and the families of fallen heroes. When the day dawned it was 22 degrees outside, but Andrew ran the course out and back for a complete 26.2 km marathon. Now he’s organizing a 5k and has recruited fellow teens to help him raise 15k for the foundation. Just last Thursday he met with leaders of two local businesses who pledged $2000 between them towards this goal.
When he realized his school was going to cancel this year’s end-of-year celebration for seniors, Andrew got his friends together, fundraised, called a ballroom, recruited a band he knew through his DJ work, and put together a party for 360 kids.
Andrew brought that same passion and enthusiasm to his Judaism when he joined CTeen as a ninth grader. It didn’t take long before Andrew became a leader in his chapter. With his contagious energy, personable character and passion, he has grown the number of CTeen members exponentially. He organized interactions between teens and Holocaust survivors, led the teens on volunteer efforts for the Jewish Relief Agency and ensured that throughout the pandemic, CTeen programming continued. “It was important to keep the positivity going, especially at such a tough time,” he says.
Andrew’s passion and enthusiasm affect his family too. Like many of his peers in Bucks County, Andrew is a first-generation American. His parents emigrated from the USSR when they were both fifteen. His great-grandfather practiced his religion in secret, and his parents were brought up not knowing much about their Judaism. In fact, when Andrew was called up to the Torah for his Bar Mitzvah, it turned into a double Bar Mitzvah as his father realized he himself had never performed this Mitzvah before.
Two years ago, Andrew decided to wear tefillin every day. It wasn’t long before his two best friends joined him and now the three of them meet every Sunday morning, together with Andrew’s little brother and six of his seventh-grade peers, and together they all put on tefillin and say the prayers.
“To me, being able to practice my Judaism openly and proudly, is especially meaningful,” Andrew, who wears a Star of David that belonged to his grandfather, says. “My great-grandfather in the USSR went to the market with his brother to get fish one day and came home to find his eight siblings and parents had been slaughtered just because they were Jews. My parents and grandparents were denied the chance to learn about their Judaism because of Communist repression and antisemitism. My brothers and I get to live freely and express our Judaism proudly, and that is their pride and joy.”
Vice President of his local chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, Andrew who graduates first in his class, is headed to Temple University where he will study finance and business analytics in the honors program.