Ellie Dubin helps kids discover their inner star

(JTA) — Ellie Dubin has always loved to sing and act but her greatest performance so far may be helping young children find their inner star.

For the past two years, Dubin, 17, has run “Kesem Shel Shir,” the Magic of Music, a teen-led service project that provides free musical theater programs to underprivileged children.


The idea for the service project began, Dubin says, when as a ninth grader she participated in the Nazarian Youth Leadership Program at her synagogue, Temple Sinai in Los Angeles. “We had to come up with some sort of project. The arts are so important but there’d been budget cuts in the schools.”

So Dubin, now a senior at Beverly Hills High School, where she also plays varsity soccer, contacted the principal of an elementary school in Los Angeles and recruited her friends to serve as mentors and instructors to 20 students for an 8-week after-school program culminating in a production of “Cinderella.”

“It was really lovely to see how proud the parents were of the kids,” says Dubin, who hopes to expand the program to other Los Angeles area schools. She has also organized similar programs at learning centers in Israel and Costa Rica.

Dubin, who lives in Beverly Hills with her parents and three brothers, was a 2013 recipient of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam for her work with Kesem. She has just begun the process of applying to colleges and hopes to study singing and acting or communications.

But Kesem is still top-of-mind for Dubin. “It really allowed me to meld my passions together,” she says. “I hope to share it with others and spread the program.”

Dubin recently spoke to JTA about her love of musical theater, her advice for other service-minded teens and her go-to iPhone apps.

You said that you love performing in musical theater, what have been some of the parts that you’ve played?

I’ve always been acting since I was really little. I’ve played “little Cosette” in Les Miserables, “Glinda” in Wicked and “Jasmine” in Aladdin.

Who or what are the biggest influences in your life?

My parents instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community, of helping out and going towards your passions in life. I really respect them. And the principals at the schools, they are amazing women!

What advice would you give to other teens interested in launching a service project?

Be proactive. Call people. Really try and go out there, don’t just sit back with an idea, make it happen. Taking your passion and feeling good about giving back, it’s the best combination!

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

I would probably have to say Rosh Hashanah; it’s such a beautiful holiday. I have had the privilege to sing at the Temple [during the service on the bimah] up with the rabbi.

What do you think you want to be doing when ”you grow up” or think you’d like to be doing professionally in perhaps five or 10 years?

My biggest passion is performing so doing that somehow and being part of the music industry. I love the arts and music so much. I really envision music in my future. Maybe my program, I really enjoy giving back as well.

What are some of the apps on your iPhone?

Shazam, it’s really cool and SoundCloud, just for music.

The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which is dedicated to celebrating and supporting teens repairing the world. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org. Please tell us about teens who deserve attention by sending an email to [email protected]