Teaching teens about Jewish giving


The Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, the St. Louis Jewish Community Center’s Adult Day Center, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund and other non-profit Jewish organizations are about to see an uptick in donations. That’s not so unusual — but the donors in this case all are teenagers.

Some 22 local teens, ages 12 through 16, will make their donations at “The Magic of Giving,” B’nai Tzedek-St. Louis’ First Annual Allocation Event, which will take place at 7 p.m. on March 9 in the atrium of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive.

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A national program, B’nai Tzedek teaches teens the importance of philanthropy in the Jewish community. Typically, teens join B’nai Tzedek in their bar/bat mitzvah year. With a little help from families and congregations, each member contributes $250 to set up a personal philanthropic fund. Teens may continue to contribute throughout the year. At the end of each year, members allocate 5 percent of the funds in their individual accounts to a Jewish organization of their choice.

Barri Wishne, 14, will send her donation to the J’s Adult Day Center. “I feel like sometimes people often forget about the elderly, and it’s important to keep them in mind,” she said. The daughter of Lori and Joel Wishne of Chesterfield, Barri said she has long been aware of the importance of philanthropy. She considers being part of B’nai Tzedek “a good way to get started in my Jewish donating.”

An eighth grader at Solomon Schechter Day School, Barri added that she really likes being part of the program. “This provides a good chance to meet others who are donating, to learn more about where they are going to donate and to learn why giving is such an important Jewish philosophy.”

Max Alper, a seventh grader at Whitfield School, echoed Barri’s comments and added, “This is important because when you have enough money to support yourself — and a little extra — you should give because some people are not as fortunate.” The son of Nancy and Keith Alper of Chesterfield, Max, 13, will send his donation to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. “With the situation in Haiti, I thought that was appropriate,” he said.

The Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry will receive a donation from Haley Abramson, 13, the daughter of Amy and Barry Abramson of Town and Country. “I’ve been going there to help out since I was a child, and I also did my mitzvah project there,” said Haley, who attends John Burroughs School.

Being part of B’nai Tzedek, said Haley, “gets you started early so you will do more when you are an adult.” She signed up, she said, “because I love philanthropy and I always feel good when I help others.”

Funded by a grant from the Kranzberg Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation and by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, B’nai Tzedek originated in Massachusetts more than a decade ago. The program began here last year, under the auspices of the Central Agency for Jewish Education. Each $250 initial investment has been matched by a $250 contribution from the Kranzberg Family Foundation. All the money is invested by the Jewish Federation and managed by CAJE.

Cindy Becker, director of B’nai Tzedek-St. Louis, is pleased with participation for the program’s first year. “The year has gone pretty well, considering we started the program in the middle of a huge financial quagmire,” Becker said, laughing. “We have 33 teens registered, and 22 are about to make their first allocation.”

Becker said B’nai Tzedek does not discourage teens from donating on their own to the American Cancer Society, the Humane Society or other non-Jewish, non-profit organizations. “We want them to get involved with other organizations too, but we try to instill in them that somebody who isn’t Jewish is not necessarily going to give to a Jewish organization first,” she said. “We say to do both.”

In addition to learning about investing, participants learn how to evaluate organizations, how to determine where to donate and how to raise funds. Some participants do their own research and some come to Becker for help. “We like to help them find something they care deeply about,” she said. “If someone is passionate about art or animals, we can help find Jewish organizations that help support artists or animals.”

Becker described participation in B’nai Tzedek as “very low maintenance.” Teens must come up with the money for the initial investment – either through gifts, babysitting, grass-cutting or other odd jobs – and they are required to attend two meetings each year. Teens also must contribute a minimum of $18 a year to the account and they must make the annual allocation. “Our goal is to get many more kids involved,” said Becker. “Many, many more.”

Sonia Dobinsky, executive director of CAJE, hopes members of the public and any interested teens and their families will attend the event on March 9. “We are all really excited about the generosity of the teens involved and also the generosity of the Kranzberg Family Foundation,” said Dobinsky. “The Foundation’s funding matches help make sure that the teens can make meaningful allocations.”

Wendy Rosenblum, assistant director of development at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, serves as the staff person for the Kranzberg Family Foundation. She said that the Foundation believes that it is important to learn about philanthropy at a young age. “B’nai Tzedek is very successful, with programs in 30 or 40 communities across the country,” she said. “We hope the program here helps builds leaders and donors in our own community.”

Magician Brent Loewenstein, who specializes in close-up and sleight-of-hand magic, will entertain at “The Magic of Giving.” Sherri Frank Weintrop, vice president of planning and allocation for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, will speak, followed by a dessert reception.

“The first thing I’m going to say is how proud we are that the teens have chosen to take part in B’nai Tzedek,” said Weintrop. “It’s an awesome thing to see young people who are now considered as adults in the Jewish religion take the first steps to be involved in making sure the Jewish community remains vibrant, and it’s important to make sure they understand how important what they are doing is.”

To enroll or for more information, call 314-442-3776.

The Magic of Giving

WHAT: B’nai Tzedek-St. Louis’ First Annual Allocation Event

WHEN: 7 p.m. March 9

WHERE: The Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive

HOW MUCH: Free, but

reservations are required.

MORE INFO: 314-442-3776