Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Beyond Tourism: My Diller Israel Trip

 Permanent link

DIna Barrish

A tourist observes but does not experience. The distinction is subtle yet important: visiting Machaneh Yehuda to witness Friday afternoon chaos versus braving the balagan (lively chaos) to buy your own Shabbat groceries. True experience, however, requires understanding; you must comprehend a culture before immersing yourself in the lifestyle. 

This summer, the Diller Teen Fellowship allowed me to understand, experience and love Israel on a deeper level. Through the theme of Israel of Many Faces, I, along with 19 other Chicago fellows and four staff members, explored Israel’s diverse narratives. We acknowledged landmarks (such as the Kotel, Har Hertzel and Masada) but focused on Israeli culture, on people. We were much more interested in our tour guide Revital’s personality and stories than in whatever monument out the window she was explaining. And when an Israeli guest speaker scoffed that we were spending a week in Kiryat Gat, we held our heads high, knowing that the people there were our people-- the best host families and friends across Israel. 

Having been to Israel twice before, I found this new angle -- the emphasis on lifestyle over landmark -- refreshing and eye-opening. I challenged myself to engage in all that is Israel, to the extent that my scavenger-hunt teammates thought I was crazy for asking every passerby in Tel Aviv to join our Horah. 

Reflecting on moments I felt most absorbed in Israeli culture -- most unlike a tourist -- I recall my host home in Kiryat Gat. By my second day with the Cohen family during Community Week, I didn’t feel like a guest; I was family. I practiced my Hebrew playing games with Noam, my host’s, sibling and had full conversations with her parents while she was in a different room. I was initially nervous to stay with Noam’s family because I’m conservative, and Noam’s family is strictly orthodox. But as Noam and I savored our last Saturday night together, shakshuka on the stove and Israeli music in the background, I remember thinking, this is home. 

My stay in Kiryat Gat not only acquainted me with an authentic Israeli lifestyle, but also introduced me to Israeli perspectives. Friday night, Noam and I went to Bnei Akiva, her community youth group. The Rabbi was conducting a discussion about diaspora Jews, asking if we (the Israelis and single Chicagoan) thought that all Jews living outside of Israel must eventually make aliyah. An Israeli boy started aggressively claiming that diaspora Jews were illegitimate, an opinion I hadn’t heard before, and Noam -- usually shy, quiet, soft-spoken -- stood right up and defended me. I understood, loved, felt at home in her home, and she similarly appreciated mine. 

At the end of the trip, I encountered and loved homes beyond just mine and Noam’s. Surrounded by 640 teens from 32 cities worldwide at Diller Global Congress, the sea of white t-shirts and bucket hats didn’t overwhelm me. Thanks to Diller, I understood beyond a tourist’s limitations: I wasn’t afraid to experience diversity. 32 cities meant 32 cultures; 640 teens meant 640 homes. I was prepared, excited, to engage with new beliefs and customs, and I have friends across the globe to show for it. Thanks to Diller, I thrived. 

Dina Barrish is not only a Diller Teen Fellow, but a senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield and Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper, The Stripe. She is co-president of Moriah Congregation’s USY chapter and interns at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. She looks forward to returning to Israel in January 2020 with the RZJHS Senior class.

Summer Highlights: Visiting Camps

 Permanent link

Waking up two hours earlier than normal to drive three hours is not often the start of a great day at work. However, last week my co-worker Sam and I did just that and spent an amazing day with the teens at JCC Camp Chi. The ride went by quickly and before we knew it we had reached the camp gate,  the same gate that granted me entry to my home away from home for twelve summers. I felt like I was in a weird, wonderful time warp. Even though there were only a handful of people there from my own camp days, it was clear to me that the campers are still having ruach (spirit) filled summers and making memories like the ones that I deeply cherish.  

The week prior, I had the pleasure of visiting Beber Camp. What was amazing about this visit was unlike JCC Camp Chi, I didn’t walk in with my own history in that space or community. None the less, I felt almost as if I could see joy and comradery the campers were experiencing by spending their summer immersed in a community rooted in Jewish values.  

One of the perks of my job is getting to see these amazing summer camp programs in action and apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys this element of Jewish professional work. I enjoyed reading Lonnie Nasatir’s reflections on visiting camps and how he sees his own camp experience relevant in his work as JUF President.  As someone who often finds themselves sitting across from a teen who is facing the difficult decision of participating in a staff-in-training program at a summer camp or getting a “real job,” I am thrilled to be able to point to Lonnie as an example of someone who truly sees the value in the important skills camp nurtures.  

Sadly, I have no more camp visit scheduled for this summer, but t I look forward to hearing about all the amazing adventures Chicago area teens are having in day and overnight camp programs this summer.  

Brittany Abramowicz Cahan is the Assistant Director of Springboard. She has spent 20 summers at camps including JCC Camp Chi, Camp Ramah Wisconsin, Habonim Dror Camp Tavor and Camp Mountain Chai. Brittany credits her fire building abilities, tie-dye expertise and creative problem-solving skills all to her camp days. She loves to meet with teens and families to hear about their experiences at camp and help them find programs throughout the year the offer the camp essence.   

We’d love to feature your favorite camp memory on the Springboard Blog email Springboard@juf.org if you would like to contribute.  


My Hebrew Story by Stephanie Kallish

 Permanent link

Hi, my name is Stephanie Kallish and I will be a Junior in the fall at Highland Park High School. The Highland Park High School Hebrew program has been such a positive experience for me in many ways. I have learned so much, improved my conversation and comprehension skills, and forged relationships with other Jewish teens my age. 

Ever since I was little, I have always had a passion for Hebrew and Israel. Unlike the average kid, I looked forward to going to Hebrew school. My teachers told me how amazing Israel was and how important it is to our faith. After traveling to Israel in eighth grade with Ta’am Yisrael, I understood what they meant and developed an appreciation for how modern and fast paced Israel truly is. This deepened my connection to the Hebrew language. It is not only the language of the Torah, but it is vibrant, current and cool! 

I recommend Hebrew to any incoming high schooler. Not only is Hebrew an amazing and fascinating language, but the class is engaging, fun and tight knit.  There is something very special about having a class with the same people every year. Typically, the summer can be super stressful finding out who your teachers are and who is in your classes, but Hebrew classes have stability of teachers and friends. After being in a class with the same people for four years, you will make friends that you never thought you would.  In Hebrew we are all so close because we automatically have one thing in common; we chose to take Hebrew all four years.  

If you are even considering taking Hebrew, I recommend you sign up. For me, taking Hebrew was one of the most positive decisions I have made so far for myself. It has had an impact on my social, academic and Jewish life.  It has also helped me foster a much stronger connection to Israel than I ever had before. My Hebrew story is a positive one, and I hope you one day you can create your own. 

USWNT: Another Mark In History

 Permanent link

“Goal! USA leads!” the commentator screamed. In the 61st minute, in front of thousands of screaming fans, and millions more watching around the world, Megan Rapinoe gave the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) the lead that eventually propelled them to their second straight FIFA Women’s World Cup title over the Netherlands.   

Since its inception in 1991, the USWNT has won 4 FIFA Women’s World Cup titles and has placed top-3 in each tournament.  Beyond their successes as athletes, the USWNT team has been making a difference by elevating the need for equality of female athletes, both in terms of pay and public recognition.

uswnt photo

As an avid sports fan, watching the USWNT celebrate their most recent title got me thinking about the role that influential Jewish athletes have played in my life and the impact they have had on their sports and our society. We are fortunate to live in a time when Jewish athletes are celebrated for the contributions they have made to the world of sports and, much like the women of USWNT, have become household names. For example, a few years ago Aly Raisman, a two-time Olympic gymnast, performed her floor routine to Hava Nagila in the 2012 Olympics. Some of you may even have heard her speak at BBYO's International Convention in Orlando. She is an athlete who embraces her Jewish identity and has intertwined it with her athletic identity. Agnes Keleti is another great example of a Jewish athlete who has made history. As a Holocaust survivor and an Olympian, her 5 gold medals, 3 silver, and 2 bronze showed the world in the 1950’s what Jewish women were capable of and what real strength looks like. And, of course, Sandy Koufax is famously known for refusing to play in a World Series game because it fell on Yom Kippur. Like the USWNT, these athletes have made a difference in the way that we envision world class athletes and used their athletic platform to elevate important topics. 

This week’s win was a great reminder that sports is about so much more than just amazing athletic performances. It felt amazing to join millions of fans across the world in cheering on the USNWT, to look to them as examples of strength and inspiration. 

Think you’ve got what it takes to be an athletic superstar? All the athletes above started somewhere, whether it was team practice after school, playing in leagues or clubs, all working incredibly hard to get where they are now. If you’re an aspiring athlete, consider weaving some Jewish values into sports through the JCC Maccabi and Artfest Games. The Maccabi Games are an Olympic-style sporting competition that provides teens a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only play the sport they love, but do so in a nurturing, yet competitive Jewish environment. This summer 78 Chicago area youth athletes are headed to Detroit and Atlanta to participating in this summers’ JCC Maccabi Games. To learn more about the JCC Maccabi Games, click here or contact Julie Minor at jminor@jccchicago.org. 

Maccabi Games photo

Sam Grobart is not only a Teen Engagement Specialist, but a die-hard Chicago sports fan. His favorite soccer team is the Queens Park Rangers FC. When he is not cheering for QPR, the Bulls, or the Sox, he is playing sports himself. Sam would love to chat with you about sports and can even help you connect your passion for sports with the Jewish community.   

My Hebrew Story by Elie Rosenberg

 Permanent link

I first chose to take Hebrew in high school because I had taken Hebrew at my Jewish day school which I went through eighth grade, and I wanted to continue learning the language. I had enjoyed learning Hebrew at my Jewish day school, but taking Hebrew in a public high school truly allowed me to appreciate the uniqueness of the language and the opportunities that I had been given to study it in day school, at my public high school, and at overnight camp.

Hebrew is a language rich in history, meaning, and nuances that is fascinating to break down and analyze. The intuitive patterns in Hebrew make the language surprisingly straightforward to learn. However, my strongest connection to Hebrew comes from the people I have met through my studies. Hebrew class in high school has been an extremely important community for me. Most Hebrew classes are mixed grade levels which brings a sense of “family” into these classes. My Hebrew teachers and faculty advisor with my independent study have been supportive presences that have urged me to dig deeper about myself and into Hebrew. Being able to speak to Israelis because of my knowledge of Hebrew has been the best part. I stayed with an Israeli family for a week going into junior year and because I knew Hebrew, I was able to deepen my connection with the host family. Additionally, knowing Hebrew has allowed me to connect to Israeli camp counselors at my summer camp. 

Also, the Israeli culture that I have learned about through studying Hebrew, is absolutely fantastic. I love listening to Israeli music and watching TV shows in Hebrew. Knowing Hebrew has allowed me to delve into a culture that I love!  

Regardless of religion or beliefs, Hebrew is an incredibly useful language that has the power to open a multitude of doors; professionally, socially, and on a more personal level. I highly recommend that others take Hebrew to build the same kinds of connections that I was able to build through my study of Hebrew and to be exposed to an awesome language! 

Sophie Frankenthal - a Merit Scholarship Winner

 Permanent link

Earlier this year, when applying to Springboard’s 18 under 18, I was presented with the following question: What is the most important issue/ injustice/ problem facing Jewish teens today? It didn’t take much time, or self-reflection, for me to come up with my answer. This was because there was a specific issue that seemed to engulf me in everyday life, and it is one that I have always been and will continue to be passionate about for the rest of my life.  

I believe in the importance of achieving unity, without enforcing uniformity. In order to accomplish this feat, we must eradicate the practice of labeling one another. Labels can serve as a tool for better understanding and relating to our environments. However, labels can also fuel resentment and a lack of unity. When we use labels to differentiate the ways Jewish people express themselves religiously, we are reducing qualities and spirituality to a mere superficial characteristic, for example the hat one wears or the synagogue where one prays. These actions inadvertently cast judgement and can contribute to the rift that exists between Jewish factions.  

In choosing to study in Israel for a year, it was very important to me to find an institution that recognized the importance of celebrating the various expressions of Judaism that exist within the confines of Jewish law. I wanted to be somewhere that didn’t attempt to dictate a uniform, “cookie-cutter” way of life to its students. I found what I was looking for in Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY).  

MMY strives to counteract the negative connotations often associated with superficial labels by enabling their students to see the beauty in the varied lifestyles that exist within the Jewish community and ensuring that students understand that there is not one way to be a Torah Jew. Their mission statement explains, “We are deeply committed to the idea that no one form of religious expression is right for everyone.” It is MMY’s belief that coming to such an understanding will enable students to better connect with Judaism, one another, and the land of Israel. After all, by removing the superficial labels, we can stop focusing on our disagreements and start focusing on our shared heritage.  

I am ecstatic to spend the upcoming year learning in MMY, because I will have a chance to study Torah on a deeper level, form a connection with the history of Israel as well as the land itself, grow spiritually, personally, and intellectually. Most importantly, at MMY I will be given the invaluable opportunity to unite with my nation and heritage without feeling the need to conform to a standard way of life or harbor any judgement towards those have views that are different from my own. 

It is my hope that through all the things I will be privileged to gain over the next year, that I will be able to strengthen my own convictions and my own religious expression so that ultimately, there is one label I can proudly display, and that is: A G-d fearing Jew. 

We are proud to offer Israel Experience Merit Scholarships to high school students through age 23 who display leadership abilities and are committed to Jewish communal activities.  Anyone going on a summer or fall/academic year program are eligible to apply each spring.  For more information, please visit our website or contact Jody Slate at Jodyslate@juf.org

Looking for opportunities to go to Israel? Masa can help you get there - for more information contact Alissa Brown at Alissabrown@juf.org

My Hebrew Story by Abby Lapins

 Permanent link

Mia Strubel Iram

From the sign marking “ delet” on my kindergarten Sunday school class, to the door of my cabin in Chalutzim, the OSRUI Hebrew immersion program, Hebrew has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. When I moved to Stevenson’s school district, I signed up for Hebrew class right away only to be told there wasn’t enough interest to run a class. Devastated, I waited a year and tried again to try to take Hebrew again my sophomore year.  

Lo and behold, the Hebrew program at Stevenson High School was reborn with me, a transfer student from Wisconsin as its number one fan.  Right off the bat I devoted my extra time to helping promote the Hebrew program. I worked closely with our amazing teacher Anna Gorbikoff to make sure our status as a program was known in our community. We spent months working on plans for the Hebrew program’s events partnering with our Club Israel and World’s Fair to make our dreams a reality. Finally, we held our very own event for the whole school, Israel Day, a day where we opened our community to the rest of the school so they could see how unique and special a community united by a common language can be.  But we didn’t stop at Israel Day; if we were capable of pulling off an event like that, who knows what else we are capable of.  

Fast forward another a semester and an official chapter of Hebrew National Honor Society (HNHS) was founded at Stevenson High School. I am personally connected to HNHS in many ways. Not only did I work diligently beside Mrs. Gorbikoff and my peers to bring this to fruition, I also served as the Vice President, and now the President. Truthfully, I couldn’t dream of anything more rewarding.   

I have watched our community go from 17 students from all three levels of Hebrew combined, to at least 17 students in EACH of the three levels currently offered. Our HNHS has grown from eight members with two people on the executive board to 16 general members and a full executive board. I have been there every step of the way, lending a hand, a pencil, or a session of peer tutoring whenever anyone has needed it. This community has given me the chance to be a part of something I couldn’t have dreamed of in a million years. I have learned so much more about the Hebrew language and culture than I ever thought I possibly could. Most importantly, having Hebrew be a part of my life has shown me that it won’t be over with my graduation from high school, that high school is only one chapter in my Hebrew story. 

Blog Post Idea
Come join us for one or all of these amazing events:
July 11th - Ravinia Food Truck Thursdays
July 23rd - Music Man @ Millennium Park
August 8th - Evanston Dessert Crawl

Coffee Chate