Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Taking a Bite out of Jewish Life

 Permanent link

ncsy volunteer group

What happens when you take 45 Jewish teens from public schools across Chicagoland – many of whom don’t know each other – and fly them to the country’s largest Jewish community for five days of adventure, social action and Jewish inspiration?

A lot more good than we ever thought possible.

This President’s Day Weekend, Midwest NCSY ran Big Apple Adventure, a Springboard school break experience that combined sightseeing, volunteering and celebrating Shabbat in New York. Many of the activities were in keeping with the trip’s theme, “Be a Hero,” with the teens exploring Judaism’s take on heroism through education and hands-on experiences. 

Big Apple T-Shirts

Lizzie Doman, a freshman at Glenbrook North High School, said she decided to go on Big Apple Adventure because it sounded like fun and her friends were going.

Her favorite part? “It’s hard to pick because this trip was full of exciting things to do,” says Lizzie, who mentions visiting Times Square, eating “delicious New York pizza,” and packing clothes at Yad Leah for poor families in Israel, as trip highlights.

For Seth Flynn, a freshman at Oak Park and River Forest High School, Shabbat was one of the best parts of the trip, with an “amazing” prayer service, lots of good food, and a “beautiful” and “high energy” Havdalah. He said he also enjoyed Shabbat guest speaker Jamie Lassner, a volunteer EMT and first responder at 9/11.

“He was incredibly inspirational,” says Seth. “We then split into different small groups and got to talk about what it means to be a hero and how we can all be one.”

Sammy Schwartz, a sophomore at Niles North High School, said he too enjoyed Shabbat, adding that while it was different than how he typically spends Shabbat, it was “meaningful and memorable.”

Most of all, Sammy said, he appreciated the opportunity to make so many friends. 

“I came on the trip knowing no one, but I left with a multitude of new, close friends whom I’m still keeping in touch with,” he says. “And it showed me that Jewish people are always connected, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.”

Abby Sokol, a freshman from Stevenson High School, shared a similar sentiment about the sense of Jewish community that the teens created on Big Apple Adventure, whether while ice skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping for Shabbat on the streets of Brooklyn, or feeding the hungry at all-kosher soup kitchen.

“The most touching part of the trip was when we all got into a circle to reflect on the experience,” she says. “A few [of the teens] shared their experiences and how they were changed, which brought some  to tears because of all the meaning and sharing that was done in the safe space and tight community we had created over this trip.”

Lizzie Doman agrees.  More than Times Square and good pizza and even volunteering, Big Apple Adventure was, above all else, about being a part of the Jewish community.

“My Jewish ties have been strengthened without a doubt, and it was meaningful to revisit [Judaism] with a fresh set of eyes and new concepts,” she says. “I feel it really brought me closer to who I am as a person and the potential I hold.”

volunteers meeting


What I've Learned by Working with Youth: A Spotlight on Emanuel Congregation Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement, Tani Prell

 Permanent link

Tani Prell Photo

I grew up as an only child, never baby sat, and was very convinced that I would never, ever want to work with young people even if you paid me to do it. Well, never say never. After college I joined Teach for America in hopes of having an impact (even a small one) on educational inequality. I was placed in a high school and while it was the hardest thing that I have done in my adult life, my students were a gift.  Their endless energy, resilience and hope convinced me that young people will always be our best hope for creating positive change in our world. 

While I was teaching, I became a student myself. I had attended a Lutheran school from preschool through high school but I always had a deep love for Judaism. I loved Jewish values, history, and traditions and knew from a very young age that one day I wanted to become Jewish myself.  I started attending Jews by Choice classes at Anshe Emet and immersed myself in Jewish life. Every day that I got to teach and then go to services or classes, I felt that I was living my most complete life.  I thought that if I could combine my two passions of education and Judaism, then that would be a dream job if there ever was one. 

Dreams come true, and here I am today as Emanuel Congregation’s Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement. Emanuel’s dedication to social justice and diversity drew me to the community. At Emanuel I oversee the religious school, youth groups, and confirmation program.  From the youngest people to our high schoolers, they all bring so many ideas, joy and enthusiasm to the synagogue.  

Every time the kids are in the building they demonstrate what Jewish values can look like at every stage.  

Preschool through third grade perform g’milut chasadim,acts of loving kindness, as often as possible. They are happy and want those around them to be happy as well. Whether it’s stick figure drawings on cards to kids in the hospital or sharing their goldfish, they spread the love. 

Fourth Grade show kibud av v'em, honor for their parents, regularly. They always greet their parents with hugs, tell their parents about their days with excitement, reference them during class, and invite them to share in their religious school experiences. 

Middle Schoolers are constantly asking questions.  As young Jewish scholars they enjoy interpreting text, debating big Jewish question and are ready to respectfully stand up for what they believe in.  

High Schoolers at Emanuel have created a community centered on tikkun olam. They are ready to repair the world and are committed to social justice. Confirmation classes are focused on discussing topics of social change. The teens have a chance to bring these discussions into practice at L’Taken with the Religious Action Center in D.C. this March. 


While younger me would have fought you on this, adult me can confidently say that working with young people is awesome. The Jewish community is filled with emerging leaders who will undoubtedly make the world a better place. I feel blessed to be a part of their journey.  


How are YOU mobilizing for social change?

 Permanent link

There’s a great bit from the comedian John Mulaney where he talks about the joy of “doing nothing.” It's so easy not to do anything! How many of us have spent our days off of school or work parked in front of the TV or computer, binge-watching Netflix for hours? Or, instead of committing to plans, checking “maybe” on a Facebook event so it’s okay when you decide, at the last minute, not to go? 

We’ve been there. We get it. It feels great to do nothing sometimes, but eventually we feel that pull to get off the couch and do something.  

So let’s talk about the “do something” people. People who spend their time off helping others, learning, teaching, and getting stuff done.

These are the teens with whom we spend our summers. There’s Marc and Adam, who after volunteering for an entire day with the Green Star Movement building a mosaic mural to beautify Chicago, reached out about coming back the next weekend to keep working. There’s Abby, Maya, and Zach, who pushed us to stay out longer registering residents to vote so they could push their elected official to support police accountability. There’s Jacob, who has spent the past three summers volunteering, acting as a leader to his peers, and making sorting mushy potatoes fun so more teens get involved. There’s Sydney, who worked to bring our discussions on root causes of oppression to their synagogue youth group to get more Jewish teens talking about important issues.

The leaders of Mobilize Chicago have been creating inspiring experiences for "do something" Jewish teens to get involved and make concrete change in their communities. Here are what some of these teens have had to say about their experiences: 

"All of the programming helped me connect to my identity as someone who cares about social justice. They assisted me in building my identity as an organizer, activist, and advocate. They helped me learn about activities I can be a part of in my own community." 


"It felt fantastic to accept my privileges and recognize them so I could use them strategically to lift up others' voices above my own." 


"This experience guided me in mingling my passion for social justice and Jewish identity. My obligation as a Jew to heal the world around me had never been so clear as it was in the program." 


"I feel much closer to my Judaism at the end of this program than I thought I would. It gave me an understanding of the importance of Shabbat from a justice and personal perspective." 


"I would definitely recommend this program. I have learned so much, and it has deeply informed my perspectives and understanding of many issues." 


It can be easy to choose to do nothing, but it is invigorating and refreshing to stand up and take action. Teens like the ones we’ve described here start by just showing up to the first program and listening, by building community and asking questions. Everyone comes with different experiences and identities, but all feel a passion for trying new things, and a drive to make the world a better place.  

So give it a shot! Get up, take a chance, and Mobilize. 

What I Learned About Trying Something New

 Permanent link

Lilly Murphy photo

Hi! My name is Lillie Murphy and I am a Junior at Barrington High School. There are not many Jewish teens in Barrington. Because of this, I found that if I want to stay involved in my Jewish community I need to do as much as I can!  

I am currently president of my USY (United Synagogue Youth) chapter and am very involved in many amazing teen programs including Diller Cohort 5, JCC Seed613, Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago. One of my close friends is also the president of her temple's youth group chapter, but through a different organization called NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) which is a reform Jewish youth group. She told me that they were having a convention coming up and that I should sign up. I figured I had nothing to lose and so much to gain like making amazing friendships and have a really exciting new experience. Another reason why I loved the idea of participating in this convention was because it would be from a first-timer's view. Most of time, when I participate in USY conventions I participate in a leadership role. Recently I have been leading a lot of the programs, never getting the chance to just sit back and participate.  

I have an outgoing personality so I wasn't too nervous about participating in a brand-new experience. That being said, I have to admit it was a little scary because I had no idea what to expect. The moment I got out of my car in front of the buses a bunch of kids came over, including two of the regional board members, and welcomed me. They were so sweet! When we got to Wisconsin, I had already met so many people on the bus that I was not afraid at all. Although many people were there with friends they already knew, everyone was happy to include me and no one cared that I was from a different youth group.  

Not only were the people amazing, but the convention itself was eye opening. I found the two different youth group experiences to be both unique and the same. The biggest difference was around conservative services versus reform services at the two conventions. Surprisingly, the structure and most of the programs were very similar.  

In the end, I definitely recommend that every Jewish teen consider branching out and trying something new. It's a great way to get involved as much as possible- you may find something new to enjoy or be reminded of the things you appreciate about the community you are already a part of. Being involved in your Jewish community has given me and taught me so much. Throughout this time I have met SO many Jewish teens that I now consider my best friends, and learned more leadership skills than some people learn in a lifetime. From going to a Jewish summer camp to being in different Jewish youth groups or programs, I have found what I love most... my Jewish community. :)  

Judaism 101: Thanksgiving

 Permanent link

As Thanksgiving approaches, we wanted to share with all of you a short drash, or reflection, on thinking about Thanksgiving from a Jewish perspective by Daniel Warshawsky, one of Springboard's Teen Engagement Specialists:  

Thanksgiving is the American holiday where we take a step back and expression our appreciation for our loved ones, our community and our good fortune. We travel near and far, visit with friends and family, and eat our fill. We spend a full day telling people what they mean to us and often demonstrate our thanks by giving back to our own communities. But, did you know that Judaism has the idea of expressing thanks built into every day?    

Here are some times when, through prayer, we have an opportunity to say 'thanks' every day:  

  1. When we open our eyes in the morning, we say "Modeh Ani Lefanecha..." And recognize that we are blessed that our nefesh (soul) has been restored to us after a night of sleep. Even though waking up every morning can be frustrating and difficult, we still can be thankful for the ability to get out of bed every day.  

  1. After waking up, there are 10 blessings (called Birkot Hashachar or The Morning Blessings) when we give thanks for the ability to wake up, be clothed, fed and more.  

  1. In the Amidah we praise in the first section, thank in the second section, and ask in the third section of this prayer. The lesson here is the order in which we give thanks. First we appreciate and then we ask, not the other way around.  

  1. Before we eat we can say the Hamotzi and acknowledge that it isn't a given that we have the ability to put food on our plates.  

  1. After we eat one could say Birkat HaMazon to be grateful for the ability to eat and for being fed and sustained. During this time, we think about the people involved in getting our food to our plates and those who made it for us.  

After thinking through the daily practice Judaism has created for us to be thankful, I found myself wondering how I make Thanksgiving meaningful when there already is a set routine of thanking god throughout the day, everyday?  

I decided that Thanksgiving can function as a reset button for our thankfulness. Sometimes when you do something too frequently, it becomes rote and loses its meaning.  Taking a full day to focus on the many things we are thankful for and to participate in activities that express our gratitude can recharge our "thanking" batteries. This Thanksgiving let's turn our focus away from the many ways Jewish prayer allows us to routinely express our thanks and challenge ourselves to create new, personalized prayers of thanks that allow us to be truly present as we express our appreciation for all that we have.  


Meet the newest member of the BBYO GMR family: Brett Musick!

 Permanent link

Brett Musick recently became the newest member of the BBYO Great Midwest Region's amazing staff. To continue our series on highlighting new youth staff in the Chicago area, we asked him to tell us a little about who he is, where he's from, and why he's so excited to join the Great Midwest Region!

 BBYO Staff

I am so excited to have joined the BBYO Great Midwest Region as the new associate regional director. I just moved to Chicago from Cincinnati Ohio where I worked at the JCC as the youth and family program assistant. I attend the University of Cincinnati where I studied Judaic Studies and Organizational Leadership. Growing up in Cleveland, I was an active member of my Temple’s youth group and NFTY. During my time in Cincinnati I was a USY/Kadima Advisor and more recently a BBYO advisor.  These experiences led me to wanting to work with teens in a larger capacity. 

During my time as a BBYO advisor I learned more about how the organization operates and the leadership skills our teens gain from being a member. I am honored to play a role in the experiences teens have during high school and am looking forward to doing what I can to elevate these Jewish moments for our teens. 

My excitement for the year ahead continues to grow as I learn more about Jewish Chicago and BBYO. Throughout the year we have three regional conventions, leadership opportunities for all of our teens, International Convention in Orlando, an inter-regional basketball tournament, and so much more!



5 Amazing Activities Happening at Winter Breakaway

 Permanent link

Do you wish camp didn't have to end at the end of summer? With Winter Breakaway, teens can head up to Camp Chi and enjoy the excitement of camp during Winter Break! Whether it's your 10th summer at Camp Chi or you have never been before, all are welcome to join for a weekend of winter adventures. Check out these five amazing winter activities that will be taking place at Winter Breakaway, December 26th-29th. Grab your winter boots and hat, and sign up today with a friend! 

Winter Camp Three

1. Skiing! 

While at Winter Breakaway, all participants will have the (optional) opportunity to go skiing at the local ski slopes! This will include a lift ticket, rentals, and a ski lesson! These ski lessons will be for those who are not super confident skiers, as well as for those who have never skied before!  

2. Snow Tubing/Sledding! 

Grab sleds and tubes, and fly down some hills both in and out of camp! Who will be fastest this year? 

3. Broomball!  

Have you ever played ice hockey with brooms and a soccer ball? Hop on our frozen lake and join us in a big game of Broomball. This is always a camper favorite! 

4. Snowman/Igloo Building Competition! 

Are you an artist? Show off your creative skills in our series of Snowman/Igloo building team and individual competitions!  

5. So much more! 

On top of all of these amazing activities, campers will also have the choice to participate in activities such as homemade hot chocolate making over a fire, high ropes, zip line, arts and crafts, radio, video, gaga, and a variety of indoor and outdoor sports. 

Winter Camp Five


New Years is not only a time for celebration, but also a time to try something new. Join us on an exciting Springboard School Break in 2017. Happy New Year!


Looking for a fun way to spend your spring break? Join Springboard!