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The Impact Of My Gratitude Journal by Annie Epstein

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In May, I received a college care package from my synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan, filled with Shabbat essentials. As I rifled through the box of candles and recipes, I came across a small blue notebook titled “Shabbat Gratitude Journal.” Since coming back to college during the pandemic, my friends and I used Shabbat as a time to safely come together, reflect on our week of zoom classes, and share a meal together. I really enjoyed those moments that added structure and fun to a seemingly never-ending week, but until receiving that notebook, I failed to apply the same energy during the rest of the week.

Shortly after receiving the package, I headed home for a much-needed short break after a difficult quarter of school. At home, I was struggling to maintain a positive attitude because I was lonely and my friends were still together in my college town. I felt inspired by that tiny notebook and decided to start writing down things, feelings, and events from each day that I was grateful for. I started to pay attention to the little things that I usually overlooked–bagels, walks in summer, hugs from friends that I haven’t seen since the pandemic began–and found that even the most mundane days were filled with things that I enjoy.

This gratitude practice drastically changed my mindset. I was definitely skeptical when I began, but after a month of journaling, I have three pages filled with all of these little things that I appreciated from each day this summer. I haven’t missed a day because I’m so excited to write down all of the things that made me happy so I can look back on them when I’m feeling down.

Because of gratitude journaling, I’ve learned to make the most of the bad days and realize just how much there is to appreciate in our lives. I highly recommend this practice to anyone who wants to bring the energy of Shabbat with them throughout the week. It all starts with a small notebook.

Annie Epstein

Bio: Annie Epstein is a rising junior from New York City at Northwestern University majoring in Journalism with minors in Psychology and Jewish Studies. During Summer 2021, she is a Lewis Summer Intern and Brand & Marketing Fellow for UpStart. On campus, Annie is involved with Hillel, Challah for Hunger, and Her Campus. After graduating, Annie hopes to pursue a career combining her passion for journalism and marketing with her love for Judaism.

Question Connection and the Diller Tikkun Olam Award

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Hannah Frazer

My name is Hannah Frazer, I am 19 years old and I am from Highland Park, Illinois. It is such an honor to have my work with Question Connection be featured on Springboard with JUF! Question Connection is a conversation starter card game designed to facilitate conversations, build community, and promote empathy. 

The game addresses feelings of loneliness, and mitigates the isolating effects of social media and bullying many young people experience in their time throughout school. Simply put: the game gets kids talking to one another. In an increasingly polarized world, the tool facilitates a safe and encouraging environment in which people recognize their similarities, ultimately fostering deeper connections, understanding, and empathy. As a high schooler, I recognized that simple ice breaker activities weren’t effective; I wanted to use my experience growing up in the age of social media to get kids engaged. I believe that everything good starts with a conversation, and that a lot of the isolation we felt could be resolved if we had an easy way to begin to talk. With my AP Psychology teacher, I developed an educational device that was transportable and easy to use. Creating a card deck with content that young people could relate to (for example, “My favorite emoji is…” or “If school didn’t exist, I would spend all my time…”), as well as translating the deck into 5 different languages, invites multiple cultures and perspectives to engage all different kinds of voices in the conversation. 

Question Connection is proudly used to facilitate conversations amongst members of the Harvard Women’s Empowerment organization, as well as at local Boys and Girls Clubs, and the JEP youth service tutoring program in LA. Students use the game in Highland Park High School’s orientation program, Giant Buddies, and Drop In Center. The game was introduced as a conversation starter activity in a local Anti Defamation League Certification training program. 

I am thrilled to announce that, through my work with Question Connection, I have been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Becoming a Diller Awardee not only gives me an incredible opportunity to further my non-profit and give back to my own community, but it also provides me with a cohort of 14 other incredibly hard working teens who are equally passionate about the ways they’re going about repairing the world. I love that I now have a phenomenal network to collaborate with! I would love to encourage everyone who has an idea to help someone or to solve a problem, no matter how big or small, to step out of your comfort zone and go for it! 

Question Connection Games is always actively looking for new schools, extracurricular programs, and organizations with which to partner. If you know anyone who might be interested in becoming a Question Connection Ambassador, please let me know! To find out more about the game, visit questionconnectiongame.com.



What the Diller Tikkun Olam Award Means to Me

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Winning the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award has been an amazing experience that is opening up so many doors for me. Each year, the Diller Foundation awards 15 young Jewish leaders from around the country with $36,000 grants to further their education or projects that practice the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, or Repairing the World. Recently, I was named one of the 2021 winners for my project Covid-TV, which is a platform connecting teens from over 10 countries around the world during the pandemic. 

At the first meeting with the rest of the recipients, the foundation told us we were not just winning an award, but being welcomed into a family. I have found that family is the exact correct word to describe the foundation. By the end of the first zoom call, I immediately felt connected to the other winners over a shared love of Judaism and working to help others. The workers at the foundation are kind, welcoming, and value social justice and taking action when they see wrong in the world. The Diller Foundation is an incredible community, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I can really say that I’m inspired by the other teens and their projects that are changing the world. From 3D printing PPE for healthcare workers to fighting for musical education in schools, I am so impressed by the other winners and grateful to be in their community and a part of the Diller Family. 

I also feel that besides receiving funding to continue and expand my project, winning the Tikkun Olam award is a responsibility to continue living by my Jewish Values and working to help others. Reading and sharing the stories of other teens and their experiences during the pandemic helped me feel not so alone during a time of social isolation. I hope that the community created by Covid-TV helped other teens through the pandemic, and will continue to help them in the transition back to a maskless world without Covid-19. As Covid-TV grows, and as I grow, I have to remember to continue leading with my Jewish faith and values of Chesed (kindness), Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and Kehilla (community) behind me. 

I feel so lucky and grateful to be given this opportunity, and to be so welcomed into the foundation. It really is an amazing community, and I am eternally grateful for all the support I have received from the Jewish community to teach me the value of doing good for others and to get me to where I am today.

Lauren Tapper

Bio: Lauren Tapper is a rising Junior at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Chicago. She Co-founded Covid-TV, an online platform connecting teens during the pandemic and igniting them in social justice projects to help struggling communities in the face of Covid-19. In her free time, she loves participating on her school’s Model UN team, walking her dog on the Chicago Lake path, and is an avid smoothie drinker. 

You Will Be Found: Finding the Funds For College

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Upon applying for colleges, my eyes widened at the prices I saw outlining the cost of attendance. “How on earth am I going to survive with this much debt?” I wondered to myself. Just the application fees alone cost my family and I over $300 (and that was just for six schools). I knew that I needed to search for scholarships, but it felt as though they were impossible to find. “Oh! There’s one!” I would exclaim. “Oh… never mind. I’m not from Idaho.” Every opportunity had some odd specification to it, and I was afraid I wouldn’t find any help.

As time went on, I found a few here and there for around $1,000-$2,000 each and submitted my materials. I had nearly given up when I stumbled across the “You Will Be Found” essay contest held by Gotham Writers, Broadway Education Alliance, and Dear Evan Hansen the Broadway Musical. As a theatre major, the Broadway component immediately spoke to me, but my interest spiked when I read the prompt: "describe how you have managed to ensure those around you were a little less alone in recent months." I knew immediately that I had the perfect story to submit.

The full story I wrote about my “Grampuncle”, Alan and our relationship can be found HERE. It was an emotional story to write. I procrastinated for a good few weeks focusing on smaller scholarships and finishing senior year, but eventually, I sat down and just wrote. I wrote for a good 30 minutes, tears hitting my keyboard, and then I had to take a break. An hour turned into a day, into a few days, but I finally came back to the document the week before submissions closed and powered through. 

About two months went by and I heard nothing from any scholarships. Over the course of the weeks following, I received a few rejections as well. At this point I had almost completely given up the idea of the You Will Be Found contest. However, on June 17th, the morning of my high school graduation, I woke up to a voicemail from the Associate Producer of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. I was in shock. “Just give me a call back when you get a chance,” the message said. I leaped out of bed and immediately called her back still in my pajamas and with sleepy bags under my eyes. 

I knew what the call was going to be about the second I heard the voicemail, but I was still in an immense amount of shock when she informed me that out of over 4,000 submissions, my story was chosen and I had won $10,000 for school. I thanked her endlessly over the phone through tears of joy and we had a conversation about theatre and my story that brought me so much happiness. She then wished me well at graduation and we said “talk soon”. 

Words can not describe the joy and validation I felt when my story, OUR story (Alan and I, that is) had been chosen. I couldn’t help but think that somehow, somewhere Alan was looking out for m

-Max

You can follow along with Max’s next adventures and stories by following them on Instagram @maxwellssilverman

Maxwell Silverman

Bio: Maxwell Silverman recently graduated from Lane Tech High School in Chicago, IL and will be pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in the Fall of 2021. They have been previously recognized by Springboard as one of the 2021 18 Under 18 Honorees, and is the Co-Founder and former Executive Director of Teens Be Heard (teensbeheard.org). With a love for dance, art, and activism, Max is passionate about storytelling and making change.


Meet Kobe, Our Engagement Specialist

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Kobe

I am thrilled to begin my role as an Engagement Specialist with Springboard at JUF! I value one-on-one connections, working collaboratively, and supporting students and families in any way I can. 

As a college student, I was an active member of my University's Hillel. I served on our student leadership team for two years. Through this experience, I connected with Jewish leaders in the community and from different college campuses through statewide initiatives. My work at Hillel inspired a love for service, Jewish learning, and identity exploration. In the past, I have taught at a few Reform congregations and in the public school system. Some hobbies of mine include recipe testing, yoga, and drinking coffee/tea! One of the things I’ll be doing with Springboard is meeting with teens and parents. As things open up I’d love to meet you for coffee or tea, get to know you and help you discover amazing ways to connect to the Chicago community.

I love being a part of the community in Chicago, and I am looking forward to beginning my career at the Jewish United Fund.

Meet Our Lewis Summer Intern, Alex!

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Alex Gold Portrait

I am so excited to be joining the Springboard team as the Lewis Summer Intern for JUF teens and Springboard this summer! 

I am from Glencoe and have always belonged to Am Shalom where I have been able to grow my Jewish belonging and network beyond friendships within my hometown. I worked at my synagogue as a madricha for three years during high school. I was able to work with preschool aged children who were just starting their Jewish journey, all the way through middle schoolers, who were gearing up for their b’nai mitzvahs.  

I spent 8 summers at Tripp Lake camp in Maine There, I was also able to connect with young Jewish girls from all over the country. Connecting with these girls from such a young age and continuously growing relationships every summer, allowed me to make lifelong friends who I still have today. 

Alex Gold Photo

I am a rising senior at Franklin and Marshall College studying sociology and anthropology. I intend to graduate this winter and go off to graduate school where I will be able to get my degree in Social Work. I hope to work with teens and young adults who are navigating middle school and high school. Listening to other people’s life experiences, and giving advice, has been a passion of mine since I was young, and I cannot wait to start that chapter of my life! 

Shavuot Learning from Talia P.

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Talia P

The Torah portion being read today, Emor, is a very important section that could also be thought of as the first Jewish calendar. It’s the first time in the Torah where all of the holidays and their dates are discussed together.  Emor starts off with god telling the Israelites that each week they should work for six days and observe Shabbat on the seventh. God then says to the Israelites that the fifteenth day of the first month they should celebrate Passover by not eating leavened bread for 7 days. Shavuot happens after Passover, and commemorates god giving the ten commandments to the Jewish people. The next holiday we hear about is Rosh Hashanah, which is observed with complete rest and seven loud blasts of the shofar. After Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur during which you should reflect on your choices and atone. Five days after Yom Kippur comes the week-long feast of booths, or sukkot.  Sukkot is the holiday that we’re currently celebrating. This is the only holiday where we‘re commanded to rejoice, and it’s usually celebrated in a Sukkah as a reminder of our Jewish ancestor’s journeys. God gives us the fixed and appointed times for all of these holidays, but, God leaves it up to us to make them holy by observing and celebrating them. Take note here. It’s not God that makes our holidays sacred… we do!

Let me ask you a question. One we’ve probably all heard! If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, does it even make a sound? Let me ask you this: If  God has a date for a holiday, but we don’t celebrate it or make it holy, does this holiday ever really happen? I think this is why it’s key that we work to make important moments special… Otherwise, what’s the point in experiencing them? Let’s take the current holiday, or Sukkot as an example. In my family, it’s a  tradition that we always put up a sukkah in our backyard, and at least in pre-pandemic times, we would always invite family and friends to spend time with us in it. This is what makes the holiday special for our family… It’s hard to imagine sukkot coming around without us observing the holiday like this— it's one of our fixed and most cherished traditions. And to put it back in Torah’s terms, by observing this holiday, we’re making it holy!

This idea of us being the ones responsible for making experiences special can really be applied to anything and everything in our lives. Consider our current pandemic situation...Many of us have had a hard time distinguishing the days from each other as we’re spending all of them at home, yet we’ve learned that the time doesn’t pass unless we do something to make each day different or special.  From waking up early to see the sunrise to going on long bike rides or having socially distanced visits with friends and family, I’ve prioritized making every day a little different. While we’re stuck in these uncertain times, we all have the ability to make these days count; let’s use it!!

So what about that tree. If I were to ask you this question right now, you’d probably say, logically that yes, that tree did make a sound--even if nobody heard it. But, the Torah answers this question a little bit differently. If there’s a set date for a holiday, yet nobody celebrates or makes it sacred, this holiday does not technically happen. 

What, then, can we take from this? Yes, of course to celebrate our jewish holidays, but we don’t need to only apply it to Judaism!! We can really apply it to any and every important event that we experience. So, next time you encounter a moment, think about what you’ll do to make it special.

About the Author: Talia is a currently an 8th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Her favorite food during Chanukah are latkes! Talia and her family belong to North Shore Congretion Israel in Glencoe.

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