Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Think You've Got What It Takes To Be The Next Great Chicago Athlete?

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There are so many amazing Jewish athletes out there. Whether you are watching the Olympics, baseball, football, basketball, or others, there is a good chance that you are watching a great Jewish athlete or sports professional without even realizing it. There are even some Chicago based Jews that have done incredible things in our own backyard. I wanted to highlight some of my personal favorite Jewish athletes below.

  • Theo Epstein: President of the Chicago Cubs who ended the two longest World Series droughts in Major League Baseball History! First, he led the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series Championship in 86 years and most recently he helped the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years.
  • Jerry Reinsdorf: Owner of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls. Jerry Reinsdorf helped the White Sox win the World Series in 2005. He also helped the Bulls win six NBA Championships and has been enshrined in the Basketball hall of Fame.
  • Adam Podlesh: A past member of the Chicago Bears who, as a punter, holds the Bears record for the largest net average of yards per punt.
  • Jason Brown: A Highland Park native figure skater who has won a Bronze Olympic Medal, a Bronze 2017 US Championship Medal, was the 2015 US National Champion, is currently ranked 7th in the world, and he is only 23 years old!

And these are just some of the Chicago based Jewish sports professionals! Think you could be next? Join Camp Chi’s Spring Breakaway Program “Game On” -a sports program unlike any that you have seen before. You will play a variety of sports, learn to think like a manager, and have the chance to become the next great Chicago Athlete!

Adding Some Jewish into Your Week: A Growing God

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Looking for some new thoughts this week’s Torah reading? Here are some reflections on Parshat Bo. 

Did you know that we read that Passover story in the Torah about two and a half months before we celebrate Passover? Starting two weeks ago, we began reading the epic story of Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, the burning bush, Mount Sinai, the 10 plagues, and the 10 commandments and it will take us a few weeks to finish it.  This week, we read about the last three plagues that god inflicts on the Egyptians: Locusts, Darkness, and the killing of the first born.  

The last of the ten plagues is by far the harshest that god inflicts on Pharaoh and his people, and with it comes a major question. How can we rationalize serving and praying to a god who would commit such harsh punishments, even in the name of freedom? I'm sure that many scholars and rabbis have debated and tried to answer this question. The answer that makes the most sense to me is one that I came across when discussing this topic with friends in Israel.   

Over the course of the entire Torah god grows alongside humanity. Until this point, we have seen a vengeful god who kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for making a mistake, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins and turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt when she failed to follow the order not to look back. This is the god who killed all of the first-born children of Egypt.  But as the story continues, god will grow.  

After destroying the world with a giant flood, god makes a covenant with humanity that he will never send another flood to destroy all life on earth and seals it with the symbol of the rainbow. After freeing the Israelites from slavery, god makes a covenant with them, gives them the ten commandments, and promises to lead them into Israel. Looking at these two instances together we are given a window into god's evolution. This view continues over the 40 years it takes to lead the Israelites into the land of Israel as we will see additional examples of god’s growth in how he treats humanity and responds to its flaws.   

Last week I wrote about god's statement of "I am who I am," and how we should all be "unapologetically ourselves." Each of us is unique, special, and important, and we should always be our authentic selves. This week, let's build upon that idea and recognize that we can grow and change.  Our pasts, our mistakes and our failures do not define us.  None of us are at the end of our stories yet. Like god in the story of the Exodus we can all grow from our pasts to make a better, brighter future.  


Interfaith work: Turning an Idea into a Reality

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Nearly 4 years ago, a conversation between a rabbi and a pastor sparked an idea: What if youth from both communities took a trip to the south together? Since its inception that day, the concept of an educational, interfaith trek southward continued to resurface, and has finally become reality. Let’s Get Together: An Interfaith Journey Toward Justice will bring Chicago's African American and Jewish teens together on a journey to explore our shared history in the Civil Rights Movement.  Far from being a simple sightseeing trip, participants will return to Chicago armed with strong bonds of friendship; a deep sense of shared purpose; and the leadership skills which will allow them to be change-agents in their communities.   


The chaperones for Let’s Get Together - volunteers from a variety of Chicago-based Jewish organizations - are all hugely excited to be taking part in the program’s maiden voyage.  As one stated in early correspondence with the group, “I am so grateful … for [this] vision of breaking down barriers, building connections, and empowering our youth to harness their collective power in advocating for lasting change, reconciliation, & justice.”  The colleague of another expressed his regret that he couldn’t return to 9th grade for the trip! 


The appeal of Let’s Get Together is simple.  If you are curious to learn from those who are different than you, or eager to explore your own past; if you want to see new places and make new bonds; if you are tired of how our city/country is so divided and are looking for a way to effect change, this trip is for you.

Sign up today at http://www.juf.org/springboard/Program-Lets-Get-Together.aspx


Here are just a few of the historically significant places that Let’s Get Together will visit as we travel to Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; and Springfield, Illinois:

Little Rock High

Civil Rights Museum

St. Louis Arch

Springfield IL Capitol

What I Gained from Participating in Voices

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I have been a part of the JUF program “Voices” for three years now, and joining was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Voices is a Chicago Teen Foundation where high school students participate in a year-long program, learning the ins and outs of grant making through a Jewish lens and making real allocations to causes participants care about.  

Carly Colen

 “Voices 101” is for first-year participants and they have $25,000 to donate to non-profits by the end of the year. Participants break up into committees based upon their non-profit interests and perform community needs research. Throughout the year, participants are taught about grants, budget analysis and site-visits and at the end, the money is donated. It sounds relatively simple but it isn't. Not only does it teach teens about philanthropic concepts, but also about what they value as people. “Voices” teaches teens to make tough real-world decisions. Quality or quantity? After-School programming or basic needs? Education or healthcare? 


“Voices Alumni” is for students who have completed the first year and it tackles the same issues, with already having the prior philanthropic knowledge. The difference: instead of starting with $25,000, we start with $0. We are responsible for raising the money that our foundation will give out in the form of grants. We create fundraising events such as dinners, art-fairs and letter writing campaigns. Fundraising has taught me a lot about realistic goal-setting, which is an important skill to have in life. With each “Voices” meeting, I continue to learn and grow as a Jewish Philanthropist. And I say Jewish Philanthropist, because Jewish values are embedded in the program. We study Maimonides’ Ladder of Giving and apply our Jewish values to our process. 


“Voices” is also a great way to meet other Jewish teens from around the Chicagoland area who also want to make a difference. That’s also what’s really neat about “Voices”, it’s a great way to engage in Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place. I know that even after I’m done with “Voices” I will continue to be an active Jewish Philanthropist and apply what I have learned from “Voices”. 


-Carly Colen, 11th grade 


Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: I Am Who I Am

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Looking for some new thoughts on the Torah to share this week? Here are some reflections to add a modern perspective to this week's Torah reading.

This week's Parsha, "Va'eira", completes the first conversation between god and Moses. In this conversation at the burning bush, Moses says to god “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The god of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” god responds with the famous words, "Eh'yeh asher eh'yeh."

This Hebrew phrase has been translated into English in a number of ways, with robust commentary accompanying each interpretation. Two popular translations include "I am that I am" and "I will be what I will be."  Some view this as god telling Moses god's true name, others just as an explanation of what god is.  My own interpretation is that god is simply sharing a fact with Moses; god is who god is and he doesn't need to provide more of an explanation than that.

If you look at the Torah as a complex story, and consider god as one of the characters (rather than an almighty, omniscient being) this quote has even more important implications. Over the course of the story so far, god has grown as a character, and it is here that god says "I am who I am." As a character, he can be interpreted as sending the message, "This is who I am. I don't have to explain myself any more than that. If you don't like it, sorry."

The lesson we can all take from the Torah this week is to be unapologetic about who we are. We should wake up every morning and say "I am who I am or I will be who I will be."  We should care less about what others think and be less concerned with judgement and hate. If everyone could say "this is who I have grown into, and this is who I will continue to become," the same way that god does in this complex story of the Torah, the world could be a much better and easier place to live. 

What is Social Engagement and is there anything Jewish about it?

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Social Engagement

There is a famous phrase that outlines the major tenants of Jewish life: “Al shlosha devarim haOlam omed –  al haTorah, v’al haAvodah, v’al G’milut Hasadim.” In English this famous statement translates as: the world stands on three major acts- the act of learning or studying, the act of doing or working, and the act of showing compassion and kindness.  The value of giving back makes up not one, but two of the three fundamental components of leading a fulfilling life.   As Jews, it is also what we are obligated to teach to the next generation.  


Parents hope that their children grow up to be good people who care about others, to stand up for what’s just, and to leave the world a better place than they found it. Social action – the act of taking steps to change things that are wrong, backwards or are impeding the state of others – is a key part of what parents hope to teach their children, and what people who serve the youth community (like us) desire to instill in those we work with. Camp professionals partner with parents in this goal. We believe it is our job to provide campers with opportunities to learn about what matters to them, and expose campers to all sorts of causes and organizations that may inspire them to do good. 


This year, we added a Social Engagement track to Breakaway so that teenagers have the opportunity to learn about a variety of causes in their local and global community. This program provides resources on how to address important causes, organizations to get involved with, and opportunities for teens to take a stand on what matters most to them. Not only is being involved in social action a good resume booster for those entering college, but participating in this type of program supports an integral pillar of Jewish life and strong identity development. In addition to providing all of the above, Breakaway: Social Engagement does so in a Jewish setting, offering an immersive communal experience where participants will form new friendships and lasting memories.   


Interested in spending your Spring Break getting inspired and making a difference? Sign up for Breakaway: Social Engagement today and we'll see you March 25-29 up at Camp Chi! 


Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: Shema Yisrael

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Here are some reflections on this week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayechi. 

This week's Torah portion features Jacob (now famous from the previous stories of wrestling with an angel and as the father of long-lost son Joseph) on his deathbed.  As was the tradition at the time, he blesses his twelve sons.  At first glance, this event may not seem that significant, the blessing they say is one we have heard many times before "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad," "Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." 

What is noteworthy is that this is the first time that arguably the most famous sentence in all of Judaism is featured. Most people believe that the events that take place on Mount Sinai, after the exodus from Egypt, launch the birth of the Jewish people.  God passes down the Ten Commandments through Moses, and the Jewish people's covenant with God is born. Let me challenge that perspective. What if we think about Jacob's blessings and the first recitation of the Shema as the birth of the Jewish people instead? 

As part of Jacob's blessing to his sons he assigns the tribes to be different and to have unique roles in the community: leaders, priests, soldiers, judges, farmers, scholars, and so on.  Just as Jacob blessed his sons to be different, today there are many roles and ways that people practice Judaism.  We have many sects and movements that Jews subscribe to. Jews can be Reconstructionist, Humanist, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Messianic, and Karaite, just to name a few.  

There was one thing, however, that kept all of the brothers together: the Shema. Even after Jacob blessed them all to be different, they came together as one people in their recitation of the Shema on his death bed. In the same way, each different type of Judaism recites the Shema in some form that is meaningful for them and believes in the same higher power, whatever form that takes. We are all united in the words that form one of the central pillars of our faith, and in doing that, we are united as a people just like Jacob's sons. 

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