Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

My Hebrew Story by Abby Lapins

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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. 

Project Teen-Seed613 Cohort 3 Launch Night By: Stephanie Levitt

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I looked out at the audience, seeing everybody’s interested eyes and warm smiles, as I clenched my notecard and rehearsed my lines in my head.  

It was Launch Night for Project Teen-Seed613, something my cohort and I looked forward to for seven months. For seven months, we attended seminars and worked tirelessly on our projects.  

It all came down to this presentation. The public needed to like our idea so that all our hard work would be worth it.  

My group gave our presentation on an app my group designed called Savr and it felt like the quickest seven minutes of my life. Our goal was to reduce food waste by providing customers with ways to track the food they have in their house so that they can use that food before it expires or find an environmentally-friendly use for it if it’s past expiration.  

When my presentation was over and I was back in my front row seat, I felt an overwhelming calmness inside me, as my mind floated back to the first meeting of the third cohort of Project Teen-Seed613 - I walked into the room, nervous and excited to meet the other girls and jump right into the program. When I met the other girls, I knew I was welcomed and appreciated for being my true self, which is unfortunately not common in our society today.  

When I came back to the reality of Launch Night, I was captivated by the other two presentations. We also had the opportunity to hear from an inspiring Jewish female entrepreneur who shared her wealth of knowledge for younger generations. 

As I listened to all three of these presentations, I realized how lucky I was to be in a room full of people that wanted to support me, my ideas, and this program. I realized that not everyone gets the opportunity to join a program like Project Teen-Seed613, but at JCC Chicago, they make sure that every teen in the program has the time of their lives over seven short months.   

Project Teen-Seed613 empowers Jewish teen girls to work together to identify challenges in the community and create solutions, whether big or small, that will make a meaningful difference. Fellows will practice innovative problem solving, critical thinking and human-centered design project design, discuss pressing social issues, learn business skills such as marketing, fundraising and budgeting tactics, and create community among peers. 

Applications are now open for Cohort 4 (November 2019-May 2020)! For more information and to apply, visit www.jccchicago.org/teenseed613 or contact Julie at jminor@jccchicago.org


Remembering the Past to Appreciate the Present by Sam Grobart

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Yesterday was Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and today is Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) in Israel. Yom Hazikaron is a day dedicated to remembering and honoring the fallen soldiers of the IDF and victims of terror. By nature, this is an unbelievably somber day. Because Israel is a small country with mandatory army service, every Israeli is affected. If you don’t personally know someone who has given their life, you know someone who does.

Yom Hazikaron is marked by a siren that is blasted at two different times. It is heard throughout the country and when it sounds, everyone and everything comes to a stop. Cars on the highway pull over, conversations in the street stop, schools and businesses come to a halt. People stop, stand, and reflect. TV channels broadcast the names and pictures of all who have fallen defending the State of Israel. Click this link to see for yourself.

Today, I remember my friend Tuvia Yanai Weissman. Yanai and I served together in the Point Company of our Battalion. While off-duty, 21-year-old Yanai, was fatally injured when he fought, unarmed, against two Palestinian terrorists who attacked shoppers in a supermarket. He was shopping with his wife and newly born daughter, making sure they had a full fridge as he prepared to leave for another few weeks in the army. With no time to think, Yanai left his wife and daughter and ran into the unknown with only courage as his weapon. After Yanai was killed, we lit a candle every day in his memory, and no matter what base we were at, continued to have a vigil with his picture and a candle. His memory and legacy will continue to shine. 

Tuvia Weissman

Pictured: Staff Sgt. Tuvia Yanai Weissman, 21.

Immediately following Yom Hazikaron is Yom Haatzmaut, a day where we celebrate the independence of the modern State of Israel. In contrast to the somberness of the preceding day, Yom Haatzmaut is filled with massive parties, concerts, and events all throughout the country, like 4th of July Celebrations here in America. From the outside looking in, having the saddest day of the year followed by the happiest may seem puzzling. How is it that one can mourn a son, daughter, or sibling’s death one day, and the next be celebrating in the streets with friends?

The answer is simple: there is no other choice.

Throughout our history suffering, sacrifice, loss and hardship has led to experiences of joy and elation. One perspective is that we need the periods of “bad” to recognize “good”. This perspective, and the belief that we need to be able to move past difficult periods, is the definition of resiliency. To be a Jew or an Israeli is to be resilient. When we fall, we get back up. When others say impossible, we say possible. When we experience hardship and loss, we carry it with us forever, but continue to move forward. When we think of loss, we know that life is around the corner. There is no Yom Haatzmaut celebration without Yom Hazikaron. The joy of Yom Haatzmaut is not possible without the pain Yom Hazikaron. Let us celebrate the State of Israel while remembering the price paid to get here.

Thanks to you we are here - בזכותכם אנחנו פה

My Hebrew Story by Noam Zetouni

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My name is Noam Zetouni and I am a senior at Deerfield High School. My earliest connection to Israel and the Hebrew language stems from having been born in Israel. I only lived there for two brief years but continued to speak Hebrew at home and to celebrate the Israeli culture and traditions. In Chicago I began preschool at Gan Yeladim and later attended Solomon Schechter, a private Jewish day school, from kindergarten through 8th grade. My love for Israel was strengthened through my experiences at Schechter and my annual visits back to Israel. 

The decision to take Hebrew in high school was an easy one, and it was probably the best decision I ever made. Because I was already fluent in the language, I began in Hebrew III Honors and smoothly worked my way to Hebrew V Honors. I also took on the role of President of the Hebrew Honors Society where I helped recruit more students into our program. Additionally, I joined Israel Club board and planned fun events that attract dozens of students the club each month. Because I had surpassed the highest level of the Hebrew program as a Junior, my teacher took me on as a Senior Teacher. I now co-teach the Freshmen Hebrew class  with her and share my passion for the language with my students. 

Beyond my familiarity with the material, I enjoy Hebrew at my high school because it places me in a community with people who share my love for Israel. Our Hebrew program focuses on more than just the language itself. It carries with it the Israeli culture. We have culture days once a week where we enjoy food, watch Israeli films, listen to Israeli music, and play games in Hebrew. This tradition is envied amongst those not taking Hebrew, so we even put on an annual Israeli Culture Day for the entire school where countless students are exposed to the opportunity to take Hebrew. Our flourishing program represents more than just a fun class. It showcases the increased popularity of young people’s pride to be Jewish and to reflect the importance of their Jewish identities. 

I am pleased with the Hebrew program that I have helped build and will continue expressing my love for Israel beyond high school. The language connects me with Jews around the world and the Israeli experience has enhanced my passion for the culture. Hopefully, through Hebrew in the High, more people can foster the same love I have for Israel and the same desire to pass it onto others. 


My Hebrew Story by Mia Strubel Iram

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My relationship with Hebrew began long before high school. I began speaking Hebrew as a little kid. At home I heard my dad speak it, and throughout my nine years of Jewish Day school my connection to Hebrew deepened as I was immersed in the language. I was initially drawn to the language because of what it represented: my family who lived in Israel, my culture and my Judaism.  

When I left Chicago Jewish Day School, for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to choose the language I wanted learn; I no longer had to learn Hebrew. For a moment I thought of taking Spanish, I considered questions like: Isn’t Spanish a more useful language? Do I really need to take Hebrew if I’ve already been learning in? Those doubts didn’t last long before I realized that I did not need to take a more traditional class to get the things I wanted out of speaking a foreign language. Hebrew is an extremely valuable language. It is unique and will stand out on my future college applications. While Hebrew is a language that I have a religious connection to, many other religions have a connection to Hebrew too, and therefore, my classes could be very diverse. My decision was made clear through the ultimate question: how could I give up on learning a language that I have such a strong connection to? 

If it isn’t clear, I decided to take Hebrew my freshman year at Niles North. Since then, my connection to the language has increased exponentially. My Hebrew class has always been a time in the day that I look forward to, and one where I am happily exposed to new topics. I have learned so much more about the culture and intricacies of the language. Choosing to take Hebrew has impacted my high school experience immensely. It has helped me become more involved in my school and outside community. Looking back, I cannot imagine how different my high school experience would be, had I not chosen to take Hebrew.

A New Lens on the 10 Plagues

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New Lens on the 10 Plagues

On Passover, we are commanded to re-tell the story of Jewish liberation from slavery.  One of the most dramatic parts of the story is the ten plagues.  To free our people, G-d sent the plagues to Pharaoh as reminders of all the injustice happening during his rule.  As we think about about justice and liberation today, what are some of the “plagues” that remind us that even today not everyone is free?  We asked three Research Training Interns to think about what are some of the modern plagues they observe in society today.

Political polarization is a modern plague because it forces individuals to take one side on an issue and does not allow for compromises.  Social and political divides are being created and perpetuated due to the idea that people can only take one extreme side of an issue rather than meeting somewhere in the middle.”  -- Sara Grostern

Social media is a modern-day plague.  It creates unrealistic standards of perfection that negatively affects so many people, primarily young people.  Climate change is also a modern plague because it destroying the world as we know it.   Climate change disproportionately affects people of color, women, people living in poverty, and indigenous people.  Although it is still such a major issue, many people are blind to its effects.” – Gwen Tucker

Internalized racism is a modern-day plagues because of the ignorance towards it.  People internalize stereotypes and unconsciously apply them into their lives, causing racial inequity.”  -- Ellie Goldsmith

What would you name as a modern plague?  Think about these and other pressing social justice issues with other teen girls and non-binary teens in the Research Training Internship – a 10 month feminist research internship exploring social justice issues in Chicago.  Applications for cohort 6 are now open.  Learn more and apply here.  Please contact Beckee Birger, Program Director, at rebeccabirger@juf.org with questions.   

Reflections on being a TYG advisor and this year's LEAD award winner by Neil Rigler

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Niel Rigler

It’s hard for me to imagine a time in my life when I was not working with Jewish teenagers. I grew up in a synagogue where both of my parents served as president, so I was constantly surrounded by that community. During high school I was an active participant in our temple’s youth group and in NFTY (JFTY at the time - go New Jersey!) events, both regionally and nationally. The day after graduation I started working at URJ’s Camp Harlam, where I spent 11 summer as counselor, unit head, and leader of their 6-week summer trip to Israel. When I moved to Chicago after college, I worked at OSRUI for two years and was hired as the youth advisor at North Shore Congregation Israel, where I have been honored to work for the past twenty-six years. I must take a moment to note I was initially hired as a co-youth group advisor - my partner then is my wife now - the world works in mysterious (or perhaps quite deliberate) ways! During my spare time I’m an English Teacher at Deerfield High School, where I enjoy the opportunity to work with a wide range of students but worry a bit less about boxes of costumes and ordering pizza.

To me, the different aspects of the LEAD award (Leader, Educator, Advisor, Dugma/Example) are all essential and interwoven components of what it means to be successful with this challenge. However, what they each mean is not so straightforward. For me, being a leader means standing on the side while my students lead. If I am the one in the front of the room or running an activity, they are passive participants instead of growing their skills in communication and organization and a hundred other areas. As an educator, my main roles are to ask questions and encourage reflection. After every program we consider not only what worked and didn’t, but also the parts each person played in everything from the brainstorming to social interaction to physical work. Being an advisor means being a listener - I long ago learned to be aware of the needs of each student, and that everyone carries a heavy backpack. I set a high bar of expectations and work hard to create it with each of them - the strengths and challenges of each student are unique. Lastly, being an dugma/example means I must be aware of our goals and the ways in which I model them. If I am being phony about it, students are aware of that right away. If I engage with my Jewish identity in a genuine and meaningful way, I can better help be a participant in the important conversations they have about what that can mean to them - about the role Judaism plays in their daily lives and how to explore those questions.

In my jobs as both teacher and TYG advisor I am constantly learning from my students. They are the ones who teach me about current ways of thinking and existing, about their ways of navigating our complicated political and social times, and about the galaxy of forces impacting their thoughts and beliefs. (As a music nerd I try to hold my own in that category, and always manage to surprise a lot of kids when I’m closer to the stage at Lollapalooza than they are). I like to tell people I have the best job in the world - that every day is different, and that I get to be present when teens are at their most curious. Yet those opportunities coincide with their most vulnerable moments, and times when they most feel like challenging and questioning everything. I embrace that. Those are the moments of growth and I’m truly honored to have the opportunity to be there and help guide the pathway for the next generation of Jewish leaders. I’m so fortunate to have so many fantastic people to work with at North Shore Congregation Israel. I’m thankful to Springboard and all of the great work they do, for this wonderful award, and for the chance to reflect on my journey up to this point.

Coffee Chate


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