Bettering the world one pencil at a time

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Bettering the world one pencil at a time

Congratulations to my friend Jessica Goldberg, who was one of 14 teen entrepreneurs across the country to receive the annual Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award. Now in its 10th year, this national award recognizes Jewish teens demonstrating and exemplifying the spirit of tikkun olam, a central Jewish value to repair the world. 

Jessica, who is 17 and will be a senior at John Burroughs School, co-founded Performing for Pencils three years ago. The nonprofit hosts an annual talent show to raise funds to provide disadvantaged St. Louis area students with the school supplies they need to be successful learners. 

The first talent show, said Jessica, held in June 2014, raised roughly $10,000 in school supplies and monetary contributions for youngsters attending the St. Louis School District. Last year’s show brought in more than $25,000 in school supplies and monetary gifts to help students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

Like all of the awardees, Jessica will receive $36,000 to be used to support her organization or to further her education. She and her mother will travel to San Francisco in mid-August for the awards ceremony. Since 2007, the program has awarded over $3 million to 84 teens in recognition of their vision, innovation, and demonstration of leadership. 

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

“I’m not exactly sure how I will use the money, but most likely I will put some into my college fund and some into Performing for Pencils,” said Jessica, who belongs to Central Reform Congregation.

Jessica, along with co-founder and classmate Ethan Orchard, got the idea for Performing for Pencils after they began volunteering with Aim High, a tuition-free academic enrichment program for motivated middle-school students, most of whom come from challenging circumstances or environments. Jessica is volunteering with Aim High this summer, helping to teach science to “enthusiastic eighth graders.”

Jessica said when she found out she had won the Tikkun Olam award, she was “incredibly excited, not just for me but for the fact that it helps put Performing for Pencils on the map.” She is hoping to expand the organization in the future, possibly into the Chicago area.

Meanwhile, she and her Performing for Pencil cohorts are busy scouting local high school talent for the 2016 show, which will be held at Burroughs on Jan. 7, 2017, rather than during the summer due to scheduling conflicts.

In addition, Jessica and Ethan both received the 2016 Princeton Prize in Race Relations for their work with Performing for Pencils. Princeton University sponsors this annual award to recognize and encourage high school students whose charitable efforts have had a significant and positive effect on race relations within their community. The Princeton Prize includes a $1,000 award and attendance at an annual symposium about race relations at Princeton.

I look forward to seeing more of Jessica in the coming academic year because she will be one of the top editors with Ohr Chadash, the Light’s monthly teen section.


Celebrating our absolute fabulousness

Lucy and Ethel, Laverne and Shirley, Thelma and Louise. While female buddies have long been celebrated in popular culture, they are a mainstay in real-life. I don’t know about you, but I would be lost without my girlfriends, most of whom are middle-aged women but I still – and will forever — call them girlfriends. 

It is with this in mind that I am inviting readers to celebrate girl power and female friendship with me at a special advance screening of the new “Absolutely Fabulous” movie at 7 p.m. Monday, July 18. The film is based on the satirical British TV sitcom of the same name, featuring best friends Edina and Patsy, two hard-boozing, outrageous and totally entitled middle-aged women who rely on each other through thick, thin and decades of dieting.

I’ve got six pairs of tickets to give away to the screening, which means each recipient can bring a guest. If you’re interested, go to and fill out the short form. The plan is to meet inside Plaza Frontenac by the theater entrance at 6:30 p.m. that Monday and go to the screening together. In keeping with the tenor of the movie, those interested can join me for a drink afterwards (drinks on everyone’s own). 

It will be an aboslutely fabulous time, dahling.


Juggling act

The Galilee Circus, a Jewish-Arab youth circus based in Israel, is coming to St. Louis Aug. 2-15 to perform with Circus Harmony’s St. Louis Arches, but more shows are needed to help offset the cost of the trip for the 10 youngsters and three adult chaperones coming from Israel.

Jessica Hentoff, director of Circus Harmony, explained that the Israeli circus went through some restructuring and wasn’t able to fully commit to the trip until very recently. As a result, fundraising came up short. 

So far, the St. Louis and Israeli troupes, a collaboration called Peace through Pyramids, are scheduled to perform at the closing of the Maccabi Games in St. Louis and at a Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School kickoff event. “We are looking for other bookings either as pay or in trade for meals or other activities for the kids, such as a day at Six Flags, or spending the day at a pool,” said Hentoff, adding that a performance of these troupes usually costs $1,500.

“They can also do a panel discussion, a circus workshop, or a soiree at someone’s home,” she added.

Peace through Pyramids began in 2007, with St. Louis Arches traveling to Israel in 2007, 2012 and 2014, and the Galilee Circus coming to St. Louis in 2008, 2012 and again this year. 

If you are interested in booking a performance by Peace Through Pyramids, or want to donate or help in some way, email [email protected] or call 314-436-7676.


Greek life down under

The Jewish college fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), opened the first fraternity chapters ever in Australia. It recently opened a chapter comprised of undergraduate students at the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney.

AEPi operates chapters on more than 190 college campuses in seven countries, including Israel, the United Kingdom, France and Austria. Founded in 1913, it has more than 90,000 living alumni.