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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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This Clayton teen is creating new buzz around tzedakah

Teen starts chapter of Jewish youth philanthropy group
Sari Gross

Sari Gross, an incoming sophomore at Clayton High School, is bringing a new organization for Jewish teens to St. Louis: Honeycomb STL. Kicking off in September, the group will focus on tzedakah — charitable giving — and getting involved in the local Jewish community. 

She learned about Honeycomb, a global Jewish youth philanthropy organization, when her parents returned home from a philanthropic trip to Israel where they found out about Honeycomb’s work. After hearing about what it was, Sari decided it was something that she and her peers could really benefit from.

“Honeycomb is an organization that is working to teach Jewish teens, ‘What is philanthropy? What is the tzedakah?’ and why it’s an important part of our Judaism,” Sari said. “When my parents told me about it, I was like, wow, that sounds like something that would really interest me and that I can really see myself doing.”

The organization’s website, honeycomb.org, states: “Honeycomb is uniquely focused on Jewish youth philanthropy because of the incredible impact and promise on which it delivers: strengthening young people’s connections to Jewish life, identity, community and values while cultivating a lasting desire and skill set to change the world.”

Danielle Segal, executive director of Honeycomb (formerly the Jewish Teen Fund Network), which is based in New York, said there are roughly 100 youth charitable giving programs across North America and internationally that engage about a thousand Jewish teens.

Sari Gross

“These programs each run independently but look to us for guidance, curriculum, research, conferences and professional development around Jewish youth philanthropy,” she said.

Sari wants to bring Honeycomb’s mission to her peers and have them learn why tzedakah is important through doing. Throughout the year, the local cohort will participate in educational programming, raise money for an organization they will choose as a group and do volunteer work.

“If you look back on Jewish leaders throughout the last 100 years, a lot of them have focused on tzedakah.” Sari said “I feel that historically, Jews are very big into donating. So I think it’s important that we learn how to do tzedakah and continue the path that the people before us have paved.” 

The first meeting is set for Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, near Creve Coeur. All Jewish high schoolers are welcome to attend.

“For the first meeting, the plan is to talk about the what and the why of tzedakah and discuss what is next for the program,” Sari said. “We will start by learning how to fundraise, and we’ll come up with a goal and mission statement.”

The plan is to meet monthly, alternating between meetings and site visits. The site visits will be both educational and philanthropic in nature, with some examples including the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum and the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. 

“The goal is to meet with whoever’s in charge of donations and fundraising at the site and have them tell us, ‘This is why we need donations, this is what we use donations for,’ because I think that’s part of inspiring people,” Sari said. “I think the site visits are to help spark interest in being like, oh, this is why we’re raising money, this is what we’re doing it for.”

Ben Panet, senior associate of Israel and teen engagement at Federation, will be the group’s adviser. Sari reached out to him to help her lead the group because he was formerly her BBYO adviser. While he will provide assistance, Sari is spearheading the organization.

“It’s really being superdriven by Sari,” Panet said. “She’s taken a huge amount of effort not only to come up with this idea but to pursue it and follow through. She did all the groundwork to look into the organization and the curriculum and is recruiting participants to start in our first cohort in September.” 

Sari is excited to grow the group and hopes that like-minded teens also will be excited about the opportunity. While she already has people on board from school, camp and the greater Jewish community, she says “the more the merrier” for the first meeting where teens can decide if it is something they are passionate about.

“It’s giving back to your community and meeting other Jewish teens,” she said. “If that’s something that’s interesting to you, give it a shot. It’s two hours. The worst that can happen is you don’t like it and you never have to come back. But it could end up changing your life.”

If you are a high-school-aged teen or know one interested in getting involved, contact Ben Panet at 314-442-3881 or through the contact form at jfedstl.org/staff/ben-panet/. For more information about Honeycomb, go to honeycomb.org/ 

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