Teenage Rebellion

Toby Klein

by Toby Klein for JUF News

"So who exactly is going to take you seriously," a neighbor laughs. "Don't underestimate us," I warned. "You'll soon see we're more than Jewish summer camp rejects..." Read More »

Making Mitzvot part of your Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvah Guide

See TOV's Guide to Making Mitzvot Part of Your Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Israel Experience

Israel Experience

Redeem your Jewish Federation Israel Experience Funds 
(including SKIP, Gift of Israel, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Certificates and Walk with Israel Vouchers)

Chicago Diller Teen Fellows

Diller Blog

Our blog has a new home!

 Permanent link
If you want to keep following our adventures, visit us at

Pre-Israel Summer Seminar Retreat

 Permanent link

By Kyle O'Day


 cultural differences improv

Preparing for some cultural differences improv.


Early on the morning of Sunday, June, 29th the Diller Teen Fellows of Cohort 1 Chicago met at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago. This full-day retreat was mainly guided towards preparing us for Israel. First we started off by snacking on bagels and catching up with each other. After that we split in groups that were each responsible for a different job in Israel. My group is in charge of wellness. This entails making sure everyone is eating, drinking, and functioning normally. For example, we planned games to get people to drink more water.


As part of our preparation for Israel and our home hospitality experience, we learned about how Israeli culture can be different that American culture through improv games. It was a very fun and funny program.


 Enjoying a nice Chicago day

Enjoying a beautiful Chicago day!


When we are in Israel we have a portion of our time that is called Community Week. In Community Week we learn about our partnership region (Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir) and we plan the entire week. During this time we live with host families and we lead an entire day with a group of about four to six other Diller participants from Chicago and Israel. We have days such as army day, fun day, etc. We spent some time working on our specific days.

 Prepping for debate

Preparing for the Great Tzedakah Debate.


Part of the reason we had our workshop downtown was to give us access to Grant Park. We went outside and had picnic lunch and played frisbee. After our break we got together and we planned out how we were going to present the first Chicago cohort to the rest of Diller and we planned out a small skit that reflected us as a group and Chicago.

 Hebrew Language Boot Camp

Hebrew Language Boot Camp!

While we spent most of the day planning for Israel, we also looked ahead to when we get back. After Israel, we shift our focus to our Tikkun Olam Projects--projects we will create to address community needs that matter to us. Each project will have mentors and we met two of them on Sunday when they joined us to participate in the "The Great Tzedakah Debate." We discussed the benefits of donating to only Jews or to non-Jews and the benefits of donating locally or globally. Eventually the Diller group decided on donating locally to all people was the best and most effective thing to do. We then started a conversation about the causes we are passionate about to help us brainstorm for the projects we will develop. After bidding them a fond farewell we had Chinese food for dinner. To wrap up the day, we enjoyed a Q&A Hebrew lesson from Emily, Alyssa, and me. Then we all went home to prepare for the Israel trip! We are all so excited and cannot wait to report to you straight from Kiryat Gat, Israel!

Workshop 9: Baseless love and Israel Summer Seminar Orientation

 Permanent link

By Lizzy Katz


 Elmo Group

Chicago Diller Teen Fellows and celebrity guest: Elmo!

After volunteering and participating in a flash mob, the meeting began with the ritual “How is everyone doing?” from Jessica. Of course, that was followed by the ritual awkward silence as we waited for someone to start. Sharing all our exciting events from the last weeks with each other, we all became very excited that we would no longer have to go to school during the planning for Community Week. Nonetheless, the planning is far from over, so then we got down to business. This week’s lesson was all about introducing the ‘journey’ that we will take during our trip to Israel. Jessica informed us of the narrative we will follow through a teaching on baseless love by Rav Abraham Isaac Kook. She gave us the quote, “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love.”

This inspired a discussion on what baseless hatred and baseless love really are. After some debate, we decided that baseless hatred is hating someone without cause. Baseless love is similar, to love someone or something without cause, but we realized that it is a lot harder to love someone without cause, than it is to hate. So different ideas were suggested. One of them was to look at situations in life with an optimistic viewpoint, rather than approaching things with pessimistically. By doing this, we are given the opportunity to hope for the best, and therefore, treating other people as well as yourself better. Taking this idea with us to the next activity, we discussed different quotes about love and gratitude that somehow connected to our lives.

Chevrutah Photo

Studying some Talmud at the Chicago Jewish Festival  

Then we moved on to planning things for Israel. The fellows decided on a design for the swag we receive to identify our group as we were given the groups we would be in for our Israel committees. These committees include representing Chicago, morale and wellness, games and more. We split into our groups, moved into the sunlight, and began the planning for each committee.

Finally, the parents arrived and orientation began. During orientation, we were warned of all the health and safety requirements we will follow whilst in Israel and then moved on to the fun part: the itinerary! After waiting in anticipation for weeks and weeks, the fellows were finally able to see what this trip to Israel actually entailed. we learned that we will be travelling all over the country, exploring the different cultures, ways of living and people, with a week in the Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir region. After learning about everything that our trip will consist of, the fellows and the parent split up. During this time, the fellows were able to discuss planning for Community Week, future deadlines and so on as the parent had a question/answer session with Jessica.

Overall, we had quite the productive day in our preparation for Israel. 27 days and counting!

Workshop 8: This land is your land, this land is my land

 Permanent link

By Talius Chickering

Trying to solve the age-old question: What is the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people... in the 19th Century 

After a whole month, the Diller cohort reunited at Beth Tikva synagogue. We were all very glad to see each other and excited to begin the workshop. Jessica started us off, declaring that the theme of this meeting would be preparing for Israel. I assumed this would not go much more in depth than discussing packing lists or safety procedures, although there was much talk outlawing hitchhiking, but the activities and conversation led us to more insightful places than I had initially expected.


We began with a fun game organized by the Israel committee. We divided into groups of three and began the Jeopardy-style game, in which we were awarded points based on the level of difficulty of a question in a variety of categories. The game was both fun and interesting, invoking lots of laughter while also teaching us information about everything from Israeli technological feats to the amount of bird traffic over Israel every year. We then continued with the next section of the activity planned by the Israel group. We all moved over to a projector where a slideshow was presented with various questions and answers about Israeli life and culture. Kids on every team shouted out answers to many of the questions. The slideshow was supplemented by some very interesting video clips, to add greater depth to many of the questions.



Woosh! Thanks, Rachel!

We then moved on to focus on a different topic, involving both a discussion and a challenge. We separated into groups once again and were each assigned an influential figure in Jewish history. These people all had a specific issue connected to them, that related to struggles the Jewish people have faced throughout history. My group dealt with the issue of assimilation into various cultures due to increased rights. We had a very interesting discussion within our group, and then we took turns presenting our problem and solution to the group. Many of the groups concluded that the solutions to their problems were dependent on a creation of a Jewish state. Jessica then revealed to us that each person we were assigned represented a type of Zionism, clarifying the coincidence of the similar answers involving the creation of a Jewish state. I personally did not know that there were different types of Zionism, so I found this very interesting. The challenge aspect of the activity involved correctly organizing a rough timeline of Israel's history. The team with the most correct pieces of history won a box of assorted halva. Through this activity I think many of us really realized the lack of knowledge we have about Israeli history and our desire to learn more.


During our break, we all moved outside to enjoy the weather I hoped would last for more than two days before plummeting down to 40. Luckily it has! We eventually all headed back inside and ate some yummy snacks. 


We started up again by reading a short section of a memoir-like story from "This American Life" written by an Israeli Arab man who decided to move to the predominantly Jewish section of Jerusalem. He tells of the many struggles, and occasional racism, that he and his family have experienced. It was very interesting to be introduced to the views of this man and it left everyone thinking. 


Soon after this discussion, we met a woman named Rachel, who works for Shorashim, an organization that is in charge of the many programs that send teens to Israel. She is also an expert on all things Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir. The following discussion was essentially a question and answer session in which we all learned many new things about what it would be like in Israel. This conversation made the fact that we will all be flying to Israel in a few months much more tangible and resulted in a growing level of excitement in me and, I believe, the other members of my cohort. 



Sometimes the easiest things aren't actually that easy.

Our next activity was quite hilarious but also proved important points. Jessica asked for volunteers and Leah and Lizzy were both chosen, not knowing what they were getting into. It turned out that Leah had to give Lizzy instructions on how to correctly prepare a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, without looking at what Lizzy was doing. Lizzy had to follow exactly what Leah said, which turned out to be quite funny. Lizzy ended up holding a loaf of bread, and peanut butter and jelly containers, both with their caps off while making a sandwich with the other hand. The sandwich also turned out to be almost a double decker of one sided sandwiches than a true closed face sandwich. We all sat back down and discussed the possible conclusions we could draw from the game, including the role of a leader, attention to detail, and how to create clear plans and instructions. 


We wrapped up the workshop by clarifying deadlines and due dates for the groups we had separated into to prepare for Community Week in Israel. During Community Week we will be staying at someone's house from the Israeli cohort in one of our three partner cities. After this meeting I think everyone felt much more excited about going to Israel, but also more confident in our knowledge of Israeli culture and history. I had a great time with everyone at the workshop and can’t wait for our next meeting at the Chicago Jewish Festival on the 8th.

North American Seminar

 Permanent link

By Robby Cohn, Leah Umanskiy, Alyssa Wexler, and Zoe Zirlin

Two Worlds 
Two worlds, one family!


After months of texting and sending Facebook messages, the North American Seminar finally arrived and we were able to meet our Israeli counterparts! When we finally met, it was amazing to see how quickly the Chicago cohort and Israeli cohort bonded together to create the true KaShLaSh (Kiryat Gat-Shafir-Lachish-Chicago) cohort as we headed to our Shabbaton.

The next morning, due to the cold and rainy weather, we had our Outdoor Training (ODT) inside! Alon, a member of the Diller international staff put together an amazing morning with fun games and various team building activities. It got a bit violent at times--the Israelis are very agressive, but the Chicago teens quickly got into the spirit of the competition!

We then had the very first ever KaShLaSh auction! There were many Jewish objects up for auction, such as the Torah, Tzedakah box, tallis bag, candle sticks, a mezuzah, and much more. Along with the large sheet of paper, we were handed an envelope containing many slips of paper. There were ideas, morals, and values, and our goal was to place each idea, moral, or value that we had to mark as an obligation, important, or not an obligation. It was our first time having a real conversation about our Jewish values.

 Let it Snow 

Let it snow!

The activity was suddenly interrupted by a screaming Israeli, who pointed out the window with a large smile on her face, and her legs quickly moving up and down. Michal Levin stood up and ran towards the window. It was her first snow. In fact, it was many of the Israelis first time seeing snow and they all ran outside to play in the falling snow. 

We headed back to the gym as a large group for a couple hours. The Entertainment committee, made of Robby, Amanda, Talius, Lian, Amit, and Liana created a fun afternoon of games and small competitions. The afternoon consisted of a large hula-hoop competition, logtag, and other fun games.   

Our Friday night Shabbat service was unlike any other. There were no prayer books, only blue signs that hung on the walls around the circular building. We were told to silently walk toward the poster that we had the strongest connection with and to bring chairs to discuss it in small groups. It was truly a remarkable service. Shabbat is meant to separate us from the rest of the week and this service did exactly that. Our Friday night Shabbat service was unlike any other. There were no prayer books, only blue signs that hung on the walls around the circular building. We were told to silently walk toward the poster that we had the strongest connection with and to bring chairs to discuss it in small groups. It was truly a remarkable service. Shabbat is meant to separate us from the rest of the week and this service did exactly that.

After changing out of our nice clothes and start our ma’agal lailah, which means night circle. It was the first time the two groups separated. We talked about serious topics, but we had a blast doing it. None of us could stop smiling and laughing and enjoying being just our group again. 



The worship committee created two ideas for Saturday morning services. There were Reform and Alternative services. I had the chance to experience the Alternative service—a yoga and meditation service. It was nice to take time away from our busy lives to relax together. We joined together again later that morning and walked to the building where we had services the previous night. Jessica and Avigail led an interesting activity and conversation about pluralism.

After our long break, we joined again to learn about the tribes of Israel, and the spies. The Fellows split off into two groups to have a debate. This is a program that all Diller Fellows experience during the NAS as we talk about what it means to be two one people who live in different places and how that began.

Later that night, after another full day of bonding and connecting, it was time to celebrate Havdallah. We said a few short prayers and then the Diller Fellows started to sing and dance around a close circle. It was amazing. I have never experienced anything like it. It was a great way to end Shabbat.

S'mores+international sing-off=great Saturday night!

After singing and eating s’mores around a campfire, we joined together for another night circle. Several words were spread throughout the floor in English and Hebrew. The mission was to pick one word to describe yourself and another word to describe the person to the right. That special activity, designed to bring us even closer together was empowering and motivating. 

On Sunday morning, we slipped on our Diller shirts and packed our luggage so we could be ready to leave camp on time to return back to Chicago. We split off into small committees or groups to start planning the opening ceremony, for when the Israelis get to meet our anxious and excited families. We also started planning community week, an action-filled, fun week taking place in Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir, when the American’s travel to Israel this summer.

On Sunday night, we returned on the bus back to Deerfield excited for the Israeli Fellows to meet our parents, who waited with open arms. Our Israeli friends were nervous but looking forwards to the days ahead! Whether they would arrive home at midnight (shoutout to Lizzy and Amanda,) or could have walked home, (shoutout to Leta), no one could wait to begin community week!

The Shabbaton was truly a remarkable experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I got to meet 19 amazing Israelis and even strengthened the bond with the Chicago cohort. What can be better than spending four straight days with Israelis? Exactly. Nothing. I cannot wait to see my new friends this summer—well, more like my new siblings! I cannot wait for the KaShLaSh family to reunite this summer in Israel!

NAS General Highlights:

And off we were to begin the exciting North American Seminar. The Israelis each travelled to a different area of Chicago, since none of us live in the same place. As the Israeli Fellows became acquainted with the American families, the connection between our two cultures began to form an unbreakable bond. The next week was about to be a rollercoaster of unforgettable memories. Each day, the Israeli Fellows experienced a different theme chosen by our coordinators, Avigail and Jessica.

At the Bean

Classic jumping picture at the Bean.

Here are some highlights:

  • The first day, the Israelis travelled to downtown Chicago to visit Navy Pier and Millenium Park, to learn about the role of the JUF in the Chicagoland area, and, of course, to go shopping!!!
  • After a long, mediocre day of school, the Chicago cohort waited eagerly for the Israelis to return, so that we could begin our night of improve and communication games. We talked throughout the whole night as if we hadn’t seen each other in years, although it really was less than 24 hours.
  • The Tuesday, the Israelis learned about religious pluralism in Chicago by visiting various synagogues in the Lakeview area and talking with rabbis of different denominations. They also visited Northwestern Hillel and learned about Jewish life on campus and college life.
  • On Wednesday, the Israeli Fellows got a chance to attend a few high schools in the northern suburbs for two hours to see what it is like to be an American teenager. They  met with someone from Jewish Student Connection and Chicagoland Jewish High School to learn about different types of Jewish education.
  • Thursday’s theme was tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Fellows travelled to different community service sites—Cornerstone Community Outreach, where they sorted clothes and served food at the soup kitchen, and CJE SeniorLife, where they spent time with seniors.
  • After two days of Diller withdrawal, KaShLaSh was finally together again as one. We talked, we laughed, we took selfies... and we worked. As one of our last chances to work together as a joined group, we clarified the goals for Community Week and finalized the basic themes of each day during the week. We were set to go, ready to plan part of the amazing trip that awaits us in less than 80 days!
  • The final day of the school week, Friday, meant Shabbat was coming soon. Israeli Fellows visited the Chicago Jewish Day School and shared their Shabbat experiences with middle schoolers. In addition, they learned about being a shaliach (an emissary from Israel) from a few representatives in Chicago and played with kids at the Israeli preschool, Gan Gani. 

Family Night

 Family Night Selfie!  

Family Night:
 During their stay, the Israelis had family nights with their host families, in which they got to spend quality time with their host families. My Israeli partner, Karin, and I went out to dinner at Tzukasa, a fun hibachi restaurant, and had the best time watching our food be cooked, trying to catch broccoli in our mouths, and watching, amazed with the creativity of the chef. After dinner, we went ice skating at a local rink. I have been skating since I was little, but this was only Karin's third time skating and she was AMAZING. She didn't even need to hold onto me (most of the time)! We talked about Israeli pop culture and Gadna, a week-long army experience we both have participated in in Israel. The next family day, we went to see the show
“Cats” at a local Marriott Theatre. We both love dancing, so we had a blast!

Other Israelis and their hosts got together and had combined family days. Some got together and played later tag, while others went shopping or to Chicago. At least half of the group took their Israeli guests to Lou Malnati’s for deep dish pizza. Overall, the family days were a great way for the teens and families to bond with their Israeli partners. It was very nice for everyone to get designated days during the week to help develop our relationships. The family days were a blast, and I'm very excited for our family days once the Americans visit the Israelis!


Rocking the KaShLaSh T-shirts!

Closing Ceremony and Havdallah

After an incredible ten days of friendship and laughter, the Diller fellows and their families arrived at the Zell house with excitement, but also sadness because we wouldn't be seeing each other until summer! Two of our Diller teens spoke to us about the magical connections we made during the time the Israelis were in Chicago and how much our Diller counterparts enjoyed staying with our families. Then, everyone got up and created a huge circle, swaying to the havdallah service while Jessica and Avigail led the prayers. After a few loud Diller cheers, the Israeli fellows hugged their new American parents farewell and the adults set off, leaving the fellows to their fun evening and soon to be sad goodbyes. 

All of the teens bounced downstairs, excited for some last minute bonding and hopefully a few hours of sleep! After a quick few rounds of lap-tag, everyone settled in to watch the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. On VHS! After that crazy throwback, the Diller Fellows cheered on their four leaders for Community Week, when the Chicagoans will travel to Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir! The leaders announced the leaders of each day and everyone was excited at the prospect of enjoying days together doing things like boot-camp at an army base and learning about the rich history of our Israeli Dillers' home region. Everyone glided around after that, talking to each other and soon heading off for a quick nap before the Israelis woke up early, early, early, in the morning to set off for O'Hare! The Chicagoans slumped up the stairs half awake until it was time for our new brothers and sisters to leave, and hugs were frequent, everyone already missing each other! Hats/scarf things and jackets on, our new friends headed out the door, looking forward to two solid days of travel and returning back to their own families! Soon, the Chicagoans went back to the basement, and an intense grabbing-of-couch-space began, as everyone got ready to settle back into sleep. One thought remained prevalent in all of our minds as we settled into sleep: how excited we are to travel to Israel and see our friends again!

Workshop 7: North American Seminar Orientation

 Permanent link

By Daniel Balogh

 Diller Workshop 7
Planning fun surprises for the NAS!

It seems amazing that very soon we will be joined by our Israeli counterparts during our North American Seminar (or NAS). Our seventh workshop was at Chicagoland Jewish High School where we were joined by a plethora of parents as well as the fellows. We started with an orientation on what would be happening during our time with the Israelis. We formed small communities to work out the many logistics for the NAS. After we got a better sense of the schedule, a guest educator, Tamar Cytryn, shared a few "texts" (which were actually videos) about the culture in Israel. One video showcased the new song "Happy" by Pharrell Williams and featured people in Tel Aviv dancing and going about their normal lives. We talked about how it could have easily taken place in America. We also watched videos that helped us understand the role of Shabbat and religion in Israeli life, even in secular contexts. 

 North American Seminar Orientation
Pasta and sushi. Best of both worlds.

Soon after our parents said their good-byes and the Fellows continued with the seventh workshop which started with a weekly update from many people, including a few people who went to AIPAC and lobbying for certain bills and meeting other Diller Fellows. We also revisited the journey of Milk and Cookies to review what goes into a successful program by identifying the mission, vision, goals, and objectives. We then moved on to plan parts of our NAS, which include a bunch surprises for the Israelis! After this we had our grand sushi-pasta dinner combo for an extended dinner. Soon after dinner we met back up with our year-round committees to discuss ways to move forward, things to add, and what else we  needed to get done. 

 Workshop 7
We can't wait!

Overall, none of us can wait until the Israelis get here and we are all doing tons of stuff in preparation for our NAS!

Workshop 6: What does Jewish look like, anyway?

 Permanent link

By Seth Wasserman

Some of our reactions after watching "The Hebrew Mamita"

It is hard to believe that we have only had six workshops and two Shabbatons. Our sixth workshop was located at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, a beautiful synagogue in Highland Park. To start off the four-hour workshop, we watched a meaningful video of a woman at a poetry slam expressing her Jewish views. We all pondered the following question: What does it really mean to look Jewish? People always go around saying “You do not look Jewish.” Should we take that as an insult even though some may say it to others as a compliment? As Diller Fellows, we all come from different backgrounds, but we all seem to have the same response when it comes to the phrase “You do not look Jewish.” Judaism is not based on outward appearance. Judaism is based on character traits and good deeds and a kind-hearted soul—all things not visible by the human eye, but they are all things that can be felt by another human being.

How do you react when someone says you "don't act Jewish"?

After we discussed our thoughts and ideas about the video, Yonah Dokarker, Liel’s father, joined us. Mr. Dokarker wanted to give us some insight on Indian Jewry. Mr. Dokarker was born and raised in India until the age of eight when his family moved to Israel. To give us some background information, Mr. Dokarker showed us a short documentary about Indian Jewry. After the documentary, we were able to ask Mr. Dokarker questions about Judaism in India compared to Judaism in Israel or America. India seems to be one of the only countries in the world without anti-Semitism. One thing that I believe changed many peoples perspectives on Judaism is that by watching the documentary, we were able to see that Judaism does not belong to one certain country. Judaism does not revolve around Israel, and Judaism does not revolve around new American adaptations. Judaism is found throughout the world. Judaism is more than just a sacred tradition focused in Israel, Judaism is a tradition focused throughout the world, and sometimes in places where one would never believe.

After so many serious conversations, we played "Snake Oil" to blow off steam

After a short break, a group from Write On for Israel came to present an activity at our workshop. To begin their activity, the Write On Fellows hung up about 20 different maps of Israel. These maps were not just maps--they were picture representations of Israel. Each “map” represented Israel in a different form of a picture. The Write On Fellows would ask us a question, such as “Which map do you connect with the most?” and then we would go stand by the map that represented the way we each individually connect to Israel. After this activity, we were all able to have a better understanding of Israel. Israel is not just represented in one way. Everyone has his or her own personal connection with Israel, and Israel means something different to every person. Even though we all may have different interpretation of Israel, we all cannot wait to go to Israel this summer! Every week we are able to develop an even tighter bond between the members of Diller. In less than two months the Israeli Cohort of Diller will be coming to stay in our houses for a week. We are all very excited for our next workshop on March 9th when we get to find out which Israelis are staying with us!