Grant winner aims to help children ‘Discover Israel’

The DISC program is designed for children from pre-kindergarten through third grade .

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Changing the face

Think of it as “Shark Tank” for millennials. And its winner: Jessica Yaira Gordon, 24, who beat out several other teams to win $30,000 from Jewish Federation of St. Louis to grow her educational business, Rozzy Learning Company. Specifically, the money will be used to further Jewish education through the company’s DISC (Discovering Israel through STEAM Careers) enrichment program. 

Gordon runs the business with Allison Bischoff, 25. The two met the first day of their freshman year at Washington University.

“This grant money will allow us to implement our DISC program to participating schools in the St. Louis area as well as be used to coordinate events for the different schools to engage students, their parents and members of the Jewish community,” said Gordon, explaining that several Jewish pre-schools, Jewish day schools and synagogue-affiliated programs will be implementing the DISC program when school begins in August. 

DISC teaches children from pre-kindergarten through third grade about modern-day Israel and the contributions it is making through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) careers. The program curriculum is completely hands-on and interactive, and includes events to underscore classroom learning. 


“One of our missions is to involve parents in their children’s learning through the events,” said Bischoff. “We set up four or five different stations that focus on STEAM and STEAM-related activities. One station may offer an activity where students build a structure using toothpicks and marshmallows while another is a sensory bin where the kids dig through rice or sand, and use a magnifying glass to practice observation. 

“As the kids are doing these stations the parents are encouraged to ask questions, helping them think like scientists and be comfortable using scientific tools.”

Gordon explained that while teaching at a local Jewish school, she found it very hard to teach students, particularly young ones, about Israel. 

“I wanted to come up with a fresh, innovative way and a more modern-day approach to teaching about Israel,” she said. “There are so many Jews in Israel who are doing amazing work in STEAM fields. But most students don’t know about them. So I thought there was an opportunity to start in St. Louis, so that students can learn about what Jewish people in Israel are accomplishing and that their contributions are so global.”

Gordon was among a dozen members of the St. Louis Jewish community to take part in a new program that began last August called JFACE, which supports Jewish innovators and Jewish innovations. Last year, Federation partnered with The Mission Center L3C (TMC), a local social enterprise incubator and Washington University’s Skandalaris Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurialship, to offer this 22-week program aimed at developing entrepreneurial skills and creative thinking to help solve local Jewish community’s emerging issues. The program culminated in the competition that Gordon won Tuesday. 

Some in JFACE formed teams; others, like Gordon, competed individually, though Bischoff had been her business partner before JFACE began (Bischoff did not take part in JFACE). Other JFACE business projects included a kosher food truck; a mobile bike unit that travels to neighborhoods, schools and community centers to help make cycling part of a healthy lifestyle, and an application that tests people’s hearing and matches them with the nearest certified audiologist in their area.

Amy Pakett, communications manager at Federation, explained Rozzy Learning Company’s DISC program was chosen as JFACE winner because it was “able to show proof of concept with a minimum viable product (prototype) – the team tested the idea.” In addition, it has “a diverse revenue stream, which promotes sustainability” and “large potential to scale.” Federation also liked that it would create impact broadly around Israel education and STEAM careers.

“This is why we started JFACE,” said Emily Bornstein, coordinator of the JFACE program for Jewish Federation of St. Louis. “To support passionate, Jewish entrepreneurs like Yaira (Jessica) who are innovating in the Jewish community.”

Given their success with Federation here, Gordon and Bischoff plan to pitch DISC to federations in other cities to secure funding to implement the program there. Meanwhile, a new iteration of JFACE is getting ready to gear up; for information, contact Bornstein at [email protected]

Mark your calendars

The Jewish Film Festival is slated to take place Sunday, June 5 through Thursday, June 9, with 16 films being screened at Landmark Plaza Frontenac. Highlights include “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” a “walk-and-talk romance” starring native St. Louisan Bryan Greenberg and his wife, Jamie Chung, both of whom are expected to be in town to introduce the film at 8 p.m. Monday, June 6.

The Sunday opener has an impressive double-header, with “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” at 4 p.m. and “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” at 8 p.m. A nosh between films, around 6 p.m., will feature Mediterranean favorites, as it celebrates the theme of the “Israel Cuisine” movie, which profiles chefs, home cooks, farmers, vintners and cheese makers from the more than 100 cultures of today’s Israel – Jewish, Arab, Muslim and Christian. 

Still working at 93, Norman Lear is the man behind so many iconic television shows, including “All in the Family, “Sanford and Son, “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and “Maude.” The 90-minute documentary about him features interviews with Lear, George Clooney, Bill Moyers, John Amos, Amy Poehler, Jon Stewart and many others.

A few others that look especially entertaining are “Fire Birds,” a murder mystery that interweaves past and present as a down-on-his-luck Israeli detective tries to unlock the secrets of a circle of spry Holocaust survivors to solve a perplexing crime, and “Remember,” by director Atom Egoyan, which was part of the 2015 St. Louis Film Festival. This mystery thriller, starring Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, centers on a Shoah survivor with a fading memory (Plummer) and fellow survivor confined to a wheelchair (Landau), who decide to track down and execute the concentration camp guard who killed their families. 

The reason I am mentioning the film festival this early is because many of the films often sell out. To avoid being shut out, Zelda Sparks, who runs the festival, suggests buying tickets around the time they go on sale May 4. Prices range from $11 to $15 for adults per film and $8 to $10 for children 16 and under. For more information, including a complete list of films, go to

Active aging through the arts

Speaking of being shut out, or missing an opportunity altogether, I want to remind readers that the first — and  hopefully annual — Celebrating Art for Senior Engagement Festival kicks off April 28 and runs through May 7. With more than 70 events scheduled, the festival plans to showcase creative work, promote arts-related aging programs, feature positive images of older adults in the community, and build respect and understanding between generations. For a complete list of events and more information, go to