Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Springboard Celebrates 2020 18 Under 18 Honorees

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As part of this year’s 18 Under 18 program, each honoree designed an Impact Project where they elevated an issue of importance to their peers, parents, clergy, Jewish professionals or community members. Each honoree also laid the groundwork for a long-term plan or took at least one action toward addressing their chosen issue. The honorees have persevered despite the difficult circumstances presented by COVID-19, and continue to work to strengthen the Jewish community. As you flip through the pages of the Recognition Book, which shares more about each of the honorees, elevates their stories and showcases the ways in which they are making a difference in our community, you’ll have the opportunity to get to know these 18 inspiring teens. Click here to hear from some of our honorees about the incredible work they've done.

Gwen Tucker

Gwen writes for her school’s newspaper and is a board member of SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism). Through her work with RTI (Research Training Internship) and JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs), her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for social justice.

Hannah Adams

Hannah is a leader of Jewish Student Connection, financial chair of Model United Nations, operations & outreach chair of the economics team, founder of mindFULL (a club that promotes the accessibility of wellness and healthy food), and a varsity lacrosse player. Hannah is a madricha at the Anshe Emet Religious School, and she has also spent the past 7 summers at OSRUI.

Josh Pogonitz

Josh has been on both his school’s cross country and basketball teams all four years of high school. Through working on his own mental illnesses, and rediscovering happiness last year, he has learned that though there are still struggles in life, it is okay to not be okay and that it is okay to make mistakes. In November of 2019, Josh spoke at No Shame On U’s annual event about his journey through mental health.

Lena Bromberg

Lena plays on her school’s volleyball team, organizes visits to a nearby retirement home, and participates in several other clubs. Most of Lena’s free time is spent babysitting. She has spent the past five summers as a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Sophie Levitt and Rachel Harris

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The Research Training Internship (RTI) is a 10-month Jewish feminist research cohort for teen girls and non-binary teens.  Each year, the group researches a social justice topic facing the Chicago area Jewish community to bring awareness and action to that issue. This year’s group explored marginalized and privileged identities within the Jewish community. This work is more important than ever; it is actively altering peoples opinions and understand of the world which is changing the world step by step. What follows is an excerpt from this year’s report written by Sophie Levitt and Rachel Harris, two of this year’s interns. They chose to research race and ethnicity within our local community. 

“The Jewish community is not a monolith. There are multitudes of identities. Yet, there aren’t many active efforts to include these identities. We explored race and ethnicity and how it affects people’s abilities to participate and identify with the Jewish community. In doing so, we wanted to bring more awareness to the intersectionality in our community and better suit everyone’s needs to make it more inclusive. Continue reading to see what we discovered. 

Our research first started off with a survey to get a handle on if, and how, people of color and non-Ashkenazi participate in and identify with the Jewish community. We received 137 responses. Of those responses, 27 people identified themselves as people of color and/or non-Ashkenazi. Our specific focus was how White, Ashkenazi Jews and non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews lives differed. The biggest difference was found in synagogue attendance. 67% of White, Ashkenazi people attend synagogue, while 48% of non-White, non-Ashkenazi people attend synagogue. These differences can be found throughout the survey, in places like camps, community centers, and organizations. It is clear that participation differs between White, Ashkenazi Jews and non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews. The lack of participation means that not everybody is being represented in Jewish spaces. Whether it is a cause or a consequence, racism is directly tied into this lack of representation. 50% of people say they have seen racism occur in the Jewish community. Anecdotal evidence from non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews shows this in glaring detail. 

The second part of our research, interviews, solidified our understanding that there was a problem in the Jewish community surrounding race and ethnicity. Some of our interviewees talked about the connection they had to the Jewish community, but they all talked about being “othered”. Time and time again, their Judaism was called into question by fellow Jews. Non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews were not made welcome. The racism and exclusion we saw spurred us to action. Our work brings light to and tries to remedy the attitudes and behaviors of the Jewish community.”

We invite you to our virtual community presentation July 13 to learn more about Sophie and Rachel’s research as well as the other topics covered in this year’s report.  Please RSVP here: https://tinyurl.com/RTIPresentation6 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Cycle Forward and Sophie Draluck

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Cycle Forward

Why is it that we feel a need to hide our tampons up our sleeves like some kind of contraband as we sneak off to the bathroom at school or work? And why is it that we whisper about our periods to our friends for fear of being overheard? When women menstruate, historically, we view that as something to be ashamed of, something that is handled in private—just one of those things we don’t really talk about. My name is Sophie Draluck, and I am here to talk about it. I am here to discuss menstruation openly and proudly in an effort to shed the stigma that often surrounds our periods, and to address the lack of access to menstrual products that far too many women around the world face. According to data from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 500 million people experience “period poverty” around the world, or in other words, do not have access to menstrual products. Globally, period poverty causes millions of women and girls to miss work or school, and in many cases, drop out altogether. Because of the harmful stigma surrounding menstruation, most people are not even aware that period poverty is a pervasive issue across the entire world.  

I did not learn of this glaring issue until 2017, after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune about teens in Uganda missing a week of school a month because they lacked access to menstrual products. As I dug deeper, I discovered that this lack of access isn’t just a problem facing women in remote African villages, but that the problem is global. Even in my “comfortable” hometown of Highland Park, I learned that women are struggling to afford menstrual products due to their high cost and unattainability through food pantries and government assistance programs, and when I met with my local food pantry, I discovered that menstrual products were among the most requested, yet least donated items. 

Deeply disturbed by these realities,, I set out to tackle period poverty by starting Cycle Forward (www.cycleforwardnow.org), a non-profit aimed at empowering women and girls by promoting menstrual equity, or equal access to period products. Cycle Forward creates a positive and immediate impact by collecting in-kind and cash donations that are used to fund the bulk purchase of menstrual  products, which we then distribute to women in need through food pantries, shelters, and other organizations that directly serve under-resourced women and teens. So far, we have donated over 75,000 tampons and pads across the Chicago area, Florida, U.K., India, and Haiti. Cycle Forward also seeks to reduce the negative stigma surrounding periods by educating others about period poverty through events and speaking engagements and by encouraging open dialogue about periods and menstrual inequity.  

As a way to increase awareness and to empower more women and teens, Cycle Forward launched a High School Outreach project this year, partnering with school service clubs, and working with them to hold a period product drive for a local pantry. Organizing a school or community period product drive to support your local food pantry is a great way to get involved and ensure that women and teens in your area have the access to menstrual products they need to fully participate in their communities. Please know that Cycle Forward and I stand ready to work with you to help launch a project! 

Because raising awareness is so essential to making progress, I’m especially grateful to announce my receipt of a 2020 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Tikkun Olam means “to repair the world,” and the Tikkun Olam Awards are given annually to Jewish teen leaders committed to addressing the most pressing challenges in their communities. I’m excited at the opportunity this award gives me to grow as an activist and to continue working to achieve menstrual equity. You can learn more about @dillerteenawards and the other powerful young changemakers making a difference in their communities as this year’s awardees at  https://www.dillerteenawards.org/  Additionally, to keep up with our fight for menstrual equity or to join us in becoming part of the solution, please follow us on Instagram @cycleforwardnow or email me at cycleforwardnow@gmail.com for more information. And remember, when girls win, we all win, even if it’s by one boldly displayed tampon at a time. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Meredith Rivkin

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Meredith Rivkin

When we were unexpectedly quarantined, I decided it was a good time to brainstorm a new mitzvah project. I knew that we needed some cheer and inspiration, so for my bat mitzvah project, I designed an original lawn sign, sold them for charity, and installed them all over towns near me! I designed and purchased 300 of the lawn signs and personally installed about 250 of them. For people out of town, I also sent them a PDF of the sign to print and put in their windows. There were signs in windows in Texas, California, Oregon, Michigan, Maryland, Washington D.C, and New York!

In just a couple of weeks, I raised and donated more than $4,500 to local food pantries to help them support less fortunate people during the uncertain times of COVID-19. I distributed the money to five organizations that support food insecurity which is growing daily because of job losses and other struggles. I have given money to the West Deerfield Township Food Pantry, the Northfield Township Food Pantry, the Moraine Township Food Pantry, the Hunger Resource Network/Hunger-Free Northbrook, in support of 400 students, and Gratitude Generation, where twice I provided lunch for a group home and also 75 Waukegan-area students. My story also got local media coverage.  

I am so happy that my story is getting out there and that I made such a big impact on my community. I love that my idea was current and realistic to achieve. I had a lot of time and help from my family and my hope was that my inspirational lawn signs would help people get through the tough times we are living in and brighten up neighborhoods. 

My project was a huge hit and I sold out in the first week and had to order more! I was really surprised by how far the word got about my project and the signs. My mom was even tagged on a local social media page with more than 15,000 moms, and people all over our neighborhood were excited to know the project was mine.  

I am really proud of how many people knew about it and saw them on their walks and bike rides around the neighborhood. The directors at all of the organizations I supported were thrilled about how far the donations I made would go to help people in need. I helped people in so many ways, from providing smiles to much-needed food. They were all very grateful and so am I.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with COVID-TV

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Covid-TV: Connecting Teens Around the World During the Pandemic

As freshmen this year, learning that school would be cancelled for the rest of the year seemed like the end of the world to us. We had just gotten the hang of high school. We were making new friends, learning how to adjust to the amount of work we had, and finally starting to enjoy the year. But in a split second everything changed. School was cancelled, social distancing orders were placed, and no end date was in sight. We felt isolated and alone, and like no one knew what we were going through. But then we realized something. Teenagers around the world were experiencing the exact same thing as us, whether they lived in Chicago, California, or even India and Israel. We may have lost the in-person connection we used to receive at school, but we could still create some kind of connection to other teenagers around the world from our own homes. 

This is why we, Lauren Tapper and Krishita Dutta, created Covid-TV, the blog connecting teenagers from 7 different countries during the Coronavirus pandemic. Covid-TV first started out as a blog and forum that allowed teens to read and submit blog posts about their experiences in quarantine. This ranged from fun recipes to try, how they are adjusting to quarantine and online school, to even how teens were dealing with the fear and loss that came with the Coronavirus pandemic. Teens can even directly connect to others from around the world on our forum. 

But as Covid-TV grew, we realized that with a growing audience we wanted to do something more. Although quarantine was extremely challenging for us, the impacts of Covid-19 could be detrimental to some other communities. This is when we started the Community Projects page. Here we have other teenagers become ambassadors for one of our four projects: Food For All, Make-A-Mask, Support the Unemployed, and Speak Up. So far our ambassadors have raised over $14,000 for community efforts like No Kid Hungry or the Greater Chicago Covid-19 Response Fund, sewed more than 16,000 masks for hospitals and community centers, and written multiple state legislatures advocating for changes to address the pandemic. We wanted to show other teens that we have the power to help others during this pandemic, even though we may have to be at home. These projects are also empowering. It is incredible to see how teenagers have been able to take initiative and raise so much money, contact state officials, and sew so many masks. We may be young, but we have the power to change the world.

We have also tried to include social justice and advocating for equality on our site. We created an Editorials page, where we publish teen written articles about different social justice issues that are not gaining as much traction due to the pandemic. Some of these are the closing of abortion clinics around the U.S due to the need to Covid-19 treatment centers, the racial inequalities in health care and access to Covid-19 tests, and unfair food stamp procedures. 

Overall, we hope the Covid-TV is able to provide a sense of connection to teenagers during the Coronavirus pandemic. We understand how hard it is being separated, and hope that Covid-TV can make sure teens know that they are not alone, and can even make an impact on their communities during this time.


Lauren is 14 years old and an upcoming sophomore at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. She is a member of her temple’s youth board, an assistant teacher at her temple’s religious school, and the co-founder of COVID-TV. At school she helped start the Jewish Students Association, and is a member of the Model UN team. In her free time she enjoys reading, hiking, hanging out with friends.


Krishita is a fifteen year old upcoming sophomore at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. She works as a media director at the non-profit Circle of Hope Chicago (AIF), a reporter at her high-school’s newspaper, and the co-founder of COVID-TV. In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading, writing for local newspapers, and spending time with her friends.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Gwen Tucker

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Fighting Racism and Anti-Blackness Starts in Our Own Jewish Communities by Gwen Tucker

We are experiencing a moment of extreme turmoil. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color based on pre-existing social inequities, Pride Month is beginning for the first time ever in a national pandemic, and most notably, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are leading to a national Black Lives Matter movement. Jewish communities across the country are springing into action, releasing statements and showing up in solidarity with Black communities in the streets. While Jewish people have a moral obligation to fight for justice, specifically racial justice, it is important that our work first begins in our youth groups, synagogues, and Jewish programs or organizations. 

For a while, I didn’t have many relationships with Jews of color and wasn’t cognizant of their contributions to the wider Jewish community. I grew up at a synagogue that was mostly white and mostly Ashkenazi, where most congregants fit into the Americanized norms of what Jewishness looks like. As I began to come into contact with Jews of various backgrounds from across the Chicagoland area and country at large, I realized my own perceptions were drastically skewed. When given the chance to create an individual project through RTI and 18 Under 18, I created a website, tinyurl.com/jewishdiversity, that focuses on diversity in the Jewish community. I chose to do this project because I have found that so much discrimination, both within and targeted at the Jewish community, comes from a false idea that all Jewish people look and experience life in one way. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview more than twenty people about their stories and experiences with Jewish identity and spaces. My long-term goal is to create more conversation about different forms of intra-community oppression and continue to uplift the voices of Jews of color, queer Jews, and Jews of other unique or marginalized identities. 

Many of the people I spoke to had both positive and negative experiences in Jewish spaces. While some had found places where their whole identity was accepted and affirmed, others had experienced intense instances of racism or other forms of discrimination. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to prioritize the well-being of Jews of color and Jews of other marginalized identities.  

So, how can we combat intra-community racism and discrimination? First, it starts with visibility. We can’t fight discrimination in our community if we don’t know that Jews of color exist in the first place. We must uplift their voices and stories because that is what really breaks down barriers. That is the focus of my work. It’s important to actively listen to their stories, uplift them, and educate ourselves. I would encourage everyone to visit my website and not only read as many of the interviews as possible, but to watch some of the movies and TV shows, read some of the books and articles, and follow some of the social media accounts from the Resources page on my website.  

As Rebecca Pierce, a Black Jewish writer perfectly articulated in an article on jewishcurrents.org, “Racism in the American Jewish community cannot be separated from American racism more broadly; they have to be fought together.” As Jews, specifically white Jews, it’s time to check our biases and show up for other marginalized people. Most importantly, our anti-racist work must begin in our own communities, because we can’t change the world until we change ourselves 

Gwen writes for her school's newspaper and is a board member of SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism). Through her work with RTI (Research Training Internship) and JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs), her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for social justice. For her 18 Under 18 Impact Project, she has been working on a website showcasing the diversity of the Jewish community's looks and experiences in the Chicagoland area. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Write on for Israel

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For this week’s #RepairTheWorldWednesday we are featuring three Write On for Israel Fellows. The Write On for Israel program is inherently one that helps our community and it all begins with education. Israel education and advocacy are pillars of the Jewish community here in Chicago and beyond. Education is the first step toward advocacy and action, and it’s action that truly repairs the world. If you would like to learn more about the Write On for Israel program please contact Zach Sandler at ZacharySandler@juf.org or click here.

To read about Avi Shapira's Blog Post Titled "Counting Down the Days Until I Travel to Israel with my Write on Peers" Click here

To read Naomi Scholder's Blog Post Titled "You Get Out What You Put In" Click here

To read Isaac Shiner's Blog Post Titled "I wanted to Take my Love for Israel to the Next Level" Click here

three WOFI students